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The Benefits of Rolling Over a 401(k) or 403(b) to Betterment
The Benefits of Rolling Over a 401(k) or 403(b) to Betterment Whether you have a single old plan or several accounts with previous employers, there may be reasons to consider rolling them over to Betterment. When you switch jobs, your old employer-sponsored retirement plan (401(k), 403(b), etc.) still belongs to you, but it becomes inactive and you can’t continue to make contributions. So what should you do with it? Whether you have a single plan or several, there are some good reasons to consider transferring your old 401(k) or 403(b). Betterment makes it simple to roll over your old employer-sponsored retirement plan into an IRA – or a Betterment 401(k) if you have one through your current employer. Either way, we invest your money in a low-cost, globally diversified portfolio, and we offer personalized advice while acting in your best interest. How can you know if that’s the right move for you? Let’s talk about it. In this guide, we’ll: Explain your options when dealing with an old 401(k) or 403(b). Walk through key questions you should ask when making your decision. Talk about the potential benefits that can come with rolling over your old account to Betterment. Show you how to get started. What can you do with your old 401(k) or 403(b)? Employer-sponsored accounts can be a great way to save for retirement. They have valuable tax advantages and come with higher contribution limits than an IRA. But after you leave a job, it’s important to consider what you do next with your plan. You have a few options: Keep it where it is. Roll it over to your current or future employer’s plan. Roll it over to an IRA. Take a cash distribution to your personal checking account. Keeping your 401(k) or 403(b) where it is or moving it to your new plan may result in high fees, confusing investment selections, a lack of financial planning options, or a portfolio not appropriate for your goals. And taking a cash distribution to yourself is a taxable event that can cause the IRS to hit you with early distribution fees. None of those situations are ideal. By contrast, rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA could give you more control over your investment options, which could lead to lower fees, and can allow you to organize your funds from most previous employer-sponsored plans by combining them in one place. At Betterment, your IRA can be invested in any one of our diversified, expert-built portfolios and personalized to your own appetite for risk. What should you consider when exploring your options? Before rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA, you should know exactly what will happen to your money, what your options are, and how it could impact your future retirement goals. Everyone’s situation is a little different. So, how do you know if you should switch? While not exhaustive, here are some factors to consider when you’re making this decision. Start by asking your old plan provider about fees and investment options so you can make an informed comparison. Operationally, we don’t charge for rollovers on our end, but your old 401(k) or 403(b) plan provider may charge you for closing your account with them. Next, consider taxes. When rolling over a 401(k), 403(b), or any other-employer sponsored plan to an IRA,, we use the direct rollover method designed to prevent any withholding or negative tax consequences. But there are two important things to remember: Be sure to designate a distribution from your current provider as a rollover. If you have a traditional 401(k) or 403(b), you typically want to roll it over into a traditional IRA. If you have a Roth 401(k) or 403(b), you must roll it over into a Roth IRA. If you withdraw from a traditional 401(k) or 403(b) as a “non-rollover” before age 59 ½, you’ll face a 10% penalty for an early withdrawal. If you roll over from a traditional plan into a Roth IRA, you’ll have to pay income taxes on the money. These situations are unnecessary for investors in most circumstances. Other questions to consider include the following: What investments are currently available and how do they compare to your other options? What are your current fees and how do they compare to your other options? Will you need protections from creditors or legal judgments? Are there required minimum distributions associated with certain accounts? How does your employer plan treat employer stock? Could the rollover impact your Roth conversion strategy? When deciding whether to roll over a retirement account, you should carefully consider your unique situation and preferences. Research the details of your current account, and consult tax professionals and other financial advisors with any questions. What are some potential benefits of rolling over to Betterment? At Betterment, rollovers are simple, automated, and personalized. In just a short time, you can open up a Betterment IRA, receive and review personalized portfolio recommendations, and generate rollover instructions entirely online. If you’re transferring more than $20,000, you’ll have complimentary access to our Licensed Concierge team. Here’s why you should consider rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA with Betterment. Access to different investment options IRAs can include more investment options than a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. With employer retirement plans, administrators typically only give you a few options to choose from and limited to no guidance on which options may be best for you. You might end up in a portfolio that’s not appropriate for your retirement goals, or you might have to choose from limited high-cost mutual funds. An IRA held at a brokerage or investment advisor—like Betterment—can provide you with access to a broader universe of investment options. Some investment advisors and brokerages that provide self-directed IRAs may offer access to an entire universe of investments such as single stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, and alternative investments. At Betterment, we only offer investment portfolios consisting entirely of ETFs in our IRAs due to the benefits we believe they provide. However, we understand investors have personal preferences and different appetites for risk so we offer a suite of ETF portfolio strategies that allow investors to personalize investments to better align with their values and/or risk tolerance. Compare your investment fees IRA fees may be lower than those your plan administrator charges. You should compare the expense ratios (fees) between your 401(k) and our investments in an IRA. And depending on your plan, keeping funds within your 401(k) plan after leaving your employer may subject you to additional management fees. At Betterment, we charge one fee for managing your IRA funds—our management fee. Betterment’s IRA management is available for 0.25% (25 bps) per year or $4 per month for those in our Digital plan, or 0.40% (40 bps) per year for those in our Premium plan. The ETFs you invest in through Betterment charge a fee themselves, but we pride ourselves in picking low cost and tax efficient funds, with the goal being to maximize your take home returns. You can explore an overview of the fund fees in each of our strategies here. If you have an existing IRA at Betterment, you can log into your account and view the “Holdings” tab to see a breakdown of the fund fees for your Betterment portfolio so that you can easily compare them with the options at your current provider. Manage your portfolio in one place Many investors appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having all their investments in one place. Understanding a fuller picture of your savings can help you make better estimates about your future budget. It can also help you to manage your overall risk and portfolio diversification more effectively to keep you on track for long-term success. Depending on your situation, moving your retirement assets to one provider may also improve the tax-efficiency of your taxable investments. Access personalized advice Betterment offers personalized retirement planning advice and projections via our in-app tooling. For those looking for assistance on topics not covered by our automated guidance, our team of Certified Financial Planners™ is available via our Advice Packages and Premium plan to provide more in-depth financial planning. How do you start a rollover? When you’re ready to roll over an account, it’s easy to get started. Sign up for Betterment and log into your account, click on “Transfer or rollover” at the top right-hand side of your home screen, then answer a few simple questions. We need to know about your 401(k) or 403(b) provider, the type of funds held in your account, and their estimated values. We’ll email you a full set of personalized instructions, including any information we need to complete the transfer. This will include your unique Betterment IRA account number, how your provider should make your rollover check payable, and where the rollover check should be mailed. Some providers mail the check directly to Betterment, others will mail the checks to you and request that you forward them to Betterment. Regardless, as long as you follow our instructions it’ll be considered a direct rollover without penalties or taxes. Some providers may also require you to fill out their rollover paperwork, or they may ask you to give them a call. If so, there’s generally no way around it. But your email from Betterment should give you all the information they’ll ask you for. Once the check arrives, we’ll automatically invest it and send you another email confirming your rollover has completed. This process also applies to other employer-sponsored plans beyond 401(k)s and 403(b)s, including pensions, 401(a)s, 457(b)s, profit sharing plans, stock plans, and Thrift Savings Plans (TSPs), if moving those investments is the right choice for your unique financial situation. If you have any questions before or during your rollover process please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org, and our customer support team is here to help.
Thinking of Transferring an IRA to Betterment?
Thinking of Transferring an IRA to Betterment? Whether you manage your IRAs yourself, or have another advisor doing so, there may be some reasons to consider moving them to Betterment. Some folks have IRAs because they rolled over former employer-sponsored plans (like a 401(k), 403(b), pension plan, etc.). Others start IRAs via direct contributions. And savvy investors may have done both. Saving in IRAs can help investors reach their retirement goals, but the abundance of options for managing them can make it difficult to determine which strategy is best suited to your needs. Whether you're managing your IRA(s) on your own or paying an advisor to do it for you, you may not be making the most of your money. At Betterment, we invest your money in a low-cost, globally-diversified portfolio, and we offer personalized advice while acting in your best interest. How can you determine the right move for you? Let’s talk about it. In this guide, we’ll: Explain your options for managing IRAs. Walk through key questions you should ask when making your decision. Talk about some considerations to keep in mind when transferring your IRA account to Betterment. Show you how to get started. What can you do with your IRA(s)? IRA accounts can be a great tax advantaged way to save for retirement. While they generally offer more flexibility compared to employer-sponsored plans, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by your potential options: Keep them at your current provider(s) Roll them over to your current or future employer’s plan (if your plan allows) Use the funds for non-retirement needs, though there could be a tax penalty Transfer them to a platform like Betterment Some investors choose to “self-direct” their IRA(s) by selecting and managing their own investments while others have a dedicated advisor manage their IRA(s) for them. If you’re happy with your current strategy, you can always keep your IRA funds with your current institution(s). Alternatively, using a low-cost, transparent advisor that’s legally bound to act in your best interest can help you navigate many of the challenges that come with investing and focus on the factors you can control. At Betterment, our diversified, expert-built portfolios, automated portfolio management, and fiduciary advice take the guesswork out of managing your IRAs. While the flexibility of IRAs offers some benefits, it may make sense to rollover your IRA funds into your current or future employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k). There are many reasons moving funds into your active employer plan may be optimal, but it’s often performed when investors are attempting more complex Roth conversion strategies. However, it’s essential to confirm whether your plan accepts rollovers as not all plans do, and Roth IRA funds are not eligible for a rollover into a qualified plan. Finally, some investors may need to tap into their IRAs for needs/goals other than retirement. While there are some IRS exceptions to the tax on “early/premature” distributions (before age 59 ½), withdrawals may result in penalties and/or taxes. How do you know if moving around your IRA(s) makes sense? Before making changes to your retirement accounts, you should know exactly what will happen to your money. Everyone’s situation is a little different. So, how do you know if you should make a switch? While not exhaustive, here are some factors to consider. If you work with an advisor, ask them about the fees and available investment options so you can make an informed comparison. If you’re managing your IRAs on your own, it can help to consider the benefits of automated portfolio management and compare your choice in investment selection to what a new platform could offer. Questions to consider include the following: What investments are currently available, and how do they compare to your other options? What fees are you paying, and how do they compare to your other options? What advice and planning guidance do your options provide? What other features are important to you (e.g., optimized time, risk management, tax efficiency)? When deciding whether to transfer an IRA, you should carefully consider your unique situation and preferences. Research the details of your current account and consult tax professionals and other financial advisors with any questions. What are some potential benefits of transferring IRA(s) to Betterment? While everyone's situation is different, there are some potential benefits you should consider when deciding whether to roll over to Betterment: Get access to expert-built portfolios and automated risk management An IRA held at a fiduciary investment advisor—like Betterment—can provide you with access to expert-built portfolios. What does that mean, exactly? Our investing team monitors and selects low-cost ETFs to create globally diversified portfolios personalized to your goals. This team meets regularly to review and make adjustments to the portfolios (as necessary), in an effort to maximize returns while maintaining an appropriate level of risk for your situation. Additionally, our automated rebalancing and auto-adjust features keep you on track as the markets move and you work towards your long-term retirement targets. We offer a suite of ETF portfolio strategies due to the benefits we believe they offer, but some providers and investment managers may offer additional investment choices such as single stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, and alternative investments along with managing risk through similar automated or manual rebalancing strategies. Manage your investment costs Depending on your current strategy, a switch to a low-cost provider like Betterment can result in fee savings, which can compound over time to significantly increase your long-term returns. At Betterment, we charge one fee for managing your IRA funds—our management fee. Betterment’s IRA management is available for 0.25% (25 bps) per year or $4 per month for those in our Digital plan, or 0.40% (40 bps) per year for those in our Premium plan. Compare that to what you are paying now to get a sense of the difference in fees. The ETFs you invest in through Betterment charge a fee themselves, but we pride ourselves in picking low cost and tax efficient funds, with the goal being to maximize your take home returns. You can explore an overview of the fund fees in each of our strategies here. If you have an existing IRA at Betterment, you can log into your account and view the “Holdings” tab to see a breakdown of the fund fees for your Betterment portfolio so that you can easily compare them with the options at your current IRA provider. While we believe in the value we our service can deliver, Betterment may be more costly than your current strategy or alternatives, so it’s important to review fees and the features offered carefully to make an informed decision. Manage your portfolio in one place Many investors appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having their investments in one place. Understanding a fuller picture of your savings can help you determine optimal savings strategies and benefit from more accurate retirement planning guidance. It can also help you to manage your overall risk and portfolio diversification more effectively to keep you on track for long-term success. Maximize your tax efficiency Investors who are saving for retirement at Betterment in at least two types of accounts (taxable, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA) may benefit from more advanced tax strategies like asset location through our Tax-Coordinated Portfolio. Additionally, managing your investments in one place can help you maximize the effectiveness of tax-loss harvesting in your taxable accounts by making sure the activity in your IRA(s) does not result in wash sales. Access personalized advice Betterment offers personalized retirement planning advice and projections via our in-app tooling. For those looking for assistance on topics not covered by our automated guidance, our team of Certified Financial Planners™ is available via our Advice Packages and Premium plan to provide more in-depth financial planning. How do you start the transfer? At Betterment, transfers are simple, automated, and personalized. You can open up a Betterment IRA, receive and review personalized portfolio recommendations, and generate transfer instructions entirely online. If you’re transferring more than $20,000, you’ll have complimentary access to our Licensed Concierge Team. When you’re ready to transfer an IRA account, it’s easy to get started. Sign up for Betterment and log in to your account, click on “Transfer or rollover” at the top right-hand side of your home screen, then answer a few simple questions. In many cases, you can initiate IRA transfers via the industry standard electronic ACATS transfer process and our platform will take care of the process from there. If that’s not an option, our Support and Licensed Concierge Teams are available to help you navigate the transfer requirements and minimize the paperwork required. Once your funds arrive at Betterment, we’ll automatically align them to your new strategy upon receipt and send you another email confirming your transfer has completed. If you have any questions before or during your rollover process please reach out to email@example.com, and our Customer Support Team is here to help.
IRAs: Tax-smart Retirement Savings Beyond the 401(k)
IRAs: Tax-smart Retirement Savings Beyond the 401(k) An IRA is a tax-advantaged investment account that allows you to save for retirement beyond a 401(k). An IRA is a tax-advantaged investment account that allows you to save for retirement in addition to, or in the absence of, an employer-sponsored 401(k). Why save with an IRA: Retirement might be one of the largest investments you’ll make throughout your life. An IRA, or individual retirement account,* provides additional flexibility, tax advantages, and savings potential to help you build toward the golden years you deserve. Here’s how: You don’t have to open an IRA through your employer, giving you more control in how you save for retirement. Each type of IRA has its own specific tax advantages, but the benefit across the board is that you don’t pay taxes on earnings now (or ever, depending on which type you use) as long as the earnings remain in the IRA. With an IRA, you can supplement your retirement savings beyond a 401(k), putting away more money over time, which allows you to take advantage of compound interest. *Semi-interesting fact: The IRS actually refers to IRAs as individual retirement “arrangements.” Primary types of IRAs: There are a handful of account types, but most people use one of these two types. A traditional IRA may allow you to deduct contributions from your taxes, and you won’t pay taxes on your withdrawals until retirement age, provided you don’t take any non-qualified withdrawals before then. A Roth IRA has income limits, and you can’t deduct your contributions from your taxes. But your future withdrawals are generally tax-free—including the interest you earn and qualified distributions. Contribution limits for traditional and Roth IRAs vary depending on your age, but are the same for both account types. If you’re under 50, you can contribute up to $6,500 total per year for 2023. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute up to $7,500 each year for 2023. To contribute to an IRA, you—or, if you file a joint return, your spouse—must have received taxable compensation during the year. And you can only contribute up to the amount of earned income you make. Tax deduction limits for traditional IRAs are based on two factors: access to a 401(k) through an employer and income. If you (or your spouse, if you have one) have access to a retirement plan through an employer, your deduction may be limited, depending on your income. If you (and your spouse, if you’re married) aren’t covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you can deduct the full amount of your IRA contributions in a given year. The big idea: Even if you already have a 401(k), an IRA is a powerful investing tool with unique tax advantages that can help you save more than you could in your employer plan alone. The pitch: Whether you’ve never invested a dime or already have an IRA and a 401(k), we can help you save for the future you deserve with automated technology and expert guidance. Betterment’s diversified portfolios, fiduciary advice, and automated tools (ex: portfolio rebalancing, recurring deposit, glide path) help people add to their retirement savings without hassle and stress. We also provide retirement planning tools to help you figure out how much you should save, depending on factors like your age, current savings, and desired retirement location. Dive deeper to learn more about IRAs or get started investing with a Betterment IRA today.
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The Benefits of Rolling Over a 401(k) or 403(b) to BettermentThe Benefits of Rolling Over a 401(k) or 403(b) to Betterment Whether you have a single old plan or several accounts with previous employers, there may be reasons to consider rolling them over to Betterment. When you switch jobs, your old employer-sponsored retirement plan (401(k), 403(b), etc.) still belongs to you, but it becomes inactive and you can’t continue to make contributions. So what should you do with it? Whether you have a single plan or several, there are some good reasons to consider transferring your old 401(k) or 403(b). Betterment makes it simple to roll over your old employer-sponsored retirement plan into an IRA – or a Betterment 401(k) if you have one through your current employer. Either way, we invest your money in a low-cost, globally diversified portfolio, and we offer personalized advice while acting in your best interest. How can you know if that’s the right move for you? Let’s talk about it. In this guide, we’ll: Explain your options when dealing with an old 401(k) or 403(b). Walk through key questions you should ask when making your decision. Talk about the potential benefits that can come with rolling over your old account to Betterment. Show you how to get started. What can you do with your old 401(k) or 403(b)? Employer-sponsored accounts can be a great way to save for retirement. They have valuable tax advantages and come with higher contribution limits than an IRA. But after you leave a job, it’s important to consider what you do next with your plan. You have a few options: Keep it where it is. Roll it over to your current or future employer’s plan. Roll it over to an IRA. Take a cash distribution to your personal checking account. Keeping your 401(k) or 403(b) where it is or moving it to your new plan may result in high fees, confusing investment selections, a lack of financial planning options, or a portfolio not appropriate for your goals. And taking a cash distribution to yourself is a taxable event that can cause the IRS to hit you with early distribution fees. None of those situations are ideal. By contrast, rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA could give you more control over your investment options, which could lead to lower fees, and can allow you to organize your funds from most previous employer-sponsored plans by combining them in one place. At Betterment, your IRA can be invested in any one of our diversified, expert-built portfolios and personalized to your own appetite for risk. What should you consider when exploring your options? Before rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA, you should know exactly what will happen to your money, what your options are, and how it could impact your future retirement goals. Everyone’s situation is a little different. So, how do you know if you should switch? While not exhaustive, here are some factors to consider when you’re making this decision. Start by asking your old plan provider about fees and investment options so you can make an informed comparison. Operationally, we don’t charge for rollovers on our end, but your old 401(k) or 403(b) plan provider may charge you for closing your account with them. Next, consider taxes. When rolling over a 401(k), 403(b), or any other-employer sponsored plan to an IRA,, we use the direct rollover method designed to prevent any withholding or negative tax consequences. But there are two important things to remember: Be sure to designate a distribution from your current provider as a rollover. If you have a traditional 401(k) or 403(b), you typically want to roll it over into a traditional IRA. If you have a Roth 401(k) or 403(b), you must roll it over into a Roth IRA. If you withdraw from a traditional 401(k) or 403(b) as a “non-rollover” before age 59 ½, you’ll face a 10% penalty for an early withdrawal. If you roll over from a traditional plan into a Roth IRA, you’ll have to pay income taxes on the money. These situations are unnecessary for investors in most circumstances. Other questions to consider include the following: What investments are currently available and how do they compare to your other options? What are your current fees and how do they compare to your other options? Will you need protections from creditors or legal judgments? Are there required minimum distributions associated with certain accounts? How does your employer plan treat employer stock? Could the rollover impact your Roth conversion strategy? When deciding whether to roll over a retirement account, you should carefully consider your unique situation and preferences. Research the details of your current account, and consult tax professionals and other financial advisors with any questions. What are some potential benefits of rolling over to Betterment? At Betterment, rollovers are simple, automated, and personalized. In just a short time, you can open up a Betterment IRA, receive and review personalized portfolio recommendations, and generate rollover instructions entirely online. If you’re transferring more than $20,000, you’ll have complimentary access to our Licensed Concierge team. Here’s why you should consider rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA with Betterment. Access to different investment options IRAs can include more investment options than a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. With employer retirement plans, administrators typically only give you a few options to choose from and limited to no guidance on which options may be best for you. You might end up in a portfolio that’s not appropriate for your retirement goals, or you might have to choose from limited high-cost mutual funds. An IRA held at a brokerage or investment advisor—like Betterment—can provide you with access to a broader universe of investment options. Some investment advisors and brokerages that provide self-directed IRAs may offer access to an entire universe of investments such as single stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, and alternative investments. At Betterment, we only offer investment portfolios consisting entirely of ETFs in our IRAs due to the benefits we believe they provide. However, we understand investors have personal preferences and different appetites for risk so we offer a suite of ETF portfolio strategies that allow investors to personalize investments to better align with their values and/or risk tolerance. Compare your investment fees IRA fees may be lower than those your plan administrator charges. You should compare the expense ratios (fees) between your 401(k) and our investments in an IRA. And depending on your plan, keeping funds within your 401(k) plan after leaving your employer may subject you to additional management fees. At Betterment, we charge one fee for managing your IRA funds—our management fee. Betterment’s IRA management is available for 0.25% (25 bps) per year or $4 per month for those in our Digital plan, or 0.40% (40 bps) per year for those in our Premium plan. The ETFs you invest in through Betterment charge a fee themselves, but we pride ourselves in picking low cost and tax efficient funds, with the goal being to maximize your take home returns. You can explore an overview of the fund fees in each of our strategies here. If you have an existing IRA at Betterment, you can log into your account and view the “Holdings” tab to see a breakdown of the fund fees for your Betterment portfolio so that you can easily compare them with the options at your current provider. Manage your portfolio in one place Many investors appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having all their investments in one place. Understanding a fuller picture of your savings can help you make better estimates about your future budget. It can also help you to manage your overall risk and portfolio diversification more effectively to keep you on track for long-term success. Depending on your situation, moving your retirement assets to one provider may also improve the tax-efficiency of your taxable investments. Access personalized advice Betterment offers personalized retirement planning advice and projections via our in-app tooling. For those looking for assistance on topics not covered by our automated guidance, our team of Certified Financial Planners™ is available via our Advice Packages and Premium plan to provide more in-depth financial planning. How do you start a rollover? When you’re ready to roll over an account, it’s easy to get started. Sign up for Betterment and log into your account, click on “Transfer or rollover” at the top right-hand side of your home screen, then answer a few simple questions. We need to know about your 401(k) or 403(b) provider, the type of funds held in your account, and their estimated values. We’ll email you a full set of personalized instructions, including any information we need to complete the transfer. This will include your unique Betterment IRA account number, how your provider should make your rollover check payable, and where the rollover check should be mailed. Some providers mail the check directly to Betterment, others will mail the checks to you and request that you forward them to Betterment. Regardless, as long as you follow our instructions it’ll be considered a direct rollover without penalties or taxes. Some providers may also require you to fill out their rollover paperwork, or they may ask you to give them a call. If so, there’s generally no way around it. But your email from Betterment should give you all the information they’ll ask you for. Once the check arrives, we’ll automatically invest it and send you another email confirming your rollover has completed. This process also applies to other employer-sponsored plans beyond 401(k)s and 403(b)s, including pensions, 401(a)s, 457(b)s, profit sharing plans, stock plans, and Thrift Savings Plans (TSPs), if moving those investments is the right choice for your unique financial situation. If you have any questions before or during your rollover process please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org, and our customer support team is here to help.
Thinking of Transferring an IRA to Betterment?Thinking of Transferring an IRA to Betterment? Whether you manage your IRAs yourself, or have another advisor doing so, there may be some reasons to consider moving them to Betterment. Some folks have IRAs because they rolled over former employer-sponsored plans (like a 401(k), 403(b), pension plan, etc.). Others start IRAs via direct contributions. And savvy investors may have done both. Saving in IRAs can help investors reach their retirement goals, but the abundance of options for managing them can make it difficult to determine which strategy is best suited to your needs. Whether you're managing your IRA(s) on your own or paying an advisor to do it for you, you may not be making the most of your money. At Betterment, we invest your money in a low-cost, globally-diversified portfolio, and we offer personalized advice while acting in your best interest. How can you determine the right move for you? Let’s talk about it. In this guide, we’ll: Explain your options for managing IRAs. Walk through key questions you should ask when making your decision. Talk about some considerations to keep in mind when transferring your IRA account to Betterment. Show you how to get started. What can you do with your IRA(s)? IRA accounts can be a great tax advantaged way to save for retirement. While they generally offer more flexibility compared to employer-sponsored plans, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by your potential options: Keep them at your current provider(s) Roll them over to your current or future employer’s plan (if your plan allows) Use the funds for non-retirement needs, though there could be a tax penalty Transfer them to a platform like Betterment Some investors choose to “self-direct” their IRA(s) by selecting and managing their own investments while others have a dedicated advisor manage their IRA(s) for them. If you’re happy with your current strategy, you can always keep your IRA funds with your current institution(s). Alternatively, using a low-cost, transparent advisor that’s legally bound to act in your best interest can help you navigate many of the challenges that come with investing and focus on the factors you can control. At Betterment, our diversified, expert-built portfolios, automated portfolio management, and fiduciary advice take the guesswork out of managing your IRAs. While the flexibility of IRAs offers some benefits, it may make sense to rollover your IRA funds into your current or future employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k). There are many reasons moving funds into your active employer plan may be optimal, but it’s often performed when investors are attempting more complex Roth conversion strategies. However, it’s essential to confirm whether your plan accepts rollovers as not all plans do, and Roth IRA funds are not eligible for a rollover into a qualified plan. Finally, some investors may need to tap into their IRAs for needs/goals other than retirement. While there are some IRS exceptions to the tax on “early/premature” distributions (before age 59 ½), withdrawals may result in penalties and/or taxes. How do you know if moving around your IRA(s) makes sense? Before making changes to your retirement accounts, you should know exactly what will happen to your money. Everyone’s situation is a little different. So, how do you know if you should make a switch? While not exhaustive, here are some factors to consider. If you work with an advisor, ask them about the fees and available investment options so you can make an informed comparison. If you’re managing your IRAs on your own, it can help to consider the benefits of automated portfolio management and compare your choice in investment selection to what a new platform could offer. Questions to consider include the following: What investments are currently available, and how do they compare to your other options? What fees are you paying, and how do they compare to your other options? What advice and planning guidance do your options provide? What other features are important to you (e.g., optimized time, risk management, tax efficiency)? When deciding whether to transfer an IRA, you should carefully consider your unique situation and preferences. Research the details of your current account and consult tax professionals and other financial advisors with any questions. What are some potential benefits of transferring IRA(s) to Betterment? While everyone's situation is different, there are some potential benefits you should consider when deciding whether to roll over to Betterment: Get access to expert-built portfolios and automated risk management An IRA held at a fiduciary investment advisor—like Betterment—can provide you with access to expert-built portfolios. What does that mean, exactly? Our investing team monitors and selects low-cost ETFs to create globally diversified portfolios personalized to your goals. This team meets regularly to review and make adjustments to the portfolios (as necessary), in an effort to maximize returns while maintaining an appropriate level of risk for your situation. Additionally, our automated rebalancing and auto-adjust features keep you on track as the markets move and you work towards your long-term retirement targets. We offer a suite of ETF portfolio strategies due to the benefits we believe they offer, but some providers and investment managers may offer additional investment choices such as single stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, and alternative investments along with managing risk through similar automated or manual rebalancing strategies. Manage your investment costs Depending on your current strategy, a switch to a low-cost provider like Betterment can result in fee savings, which can compound over time to significantly increase your long-term returns. At Betterment, we charge one fee for managing your IRA funds—our management fee. Betterment’s IRA management is available for 0.25% (25 bps) per year or $4 per month for those in our Digital plan, or 0.40% (40 bps) per year for those in our Premium plan. Compare that to what you are paying now to get a sense of the difference in fees. The ETFs you invest in through Betterment charge a fee themselves, but we pride ourselves in picking low cost and tax efficient funds, with the goal being to maximize your take home returns. You can explore an overview of the fund fees in each of our strategies here. If you have an existing IRA at Betterment, you can log into your account and view the “Holdings” tab to see a breakdown of the fund fees for your Betterment portfolio so that you can easily compare them with the options at your current IRA provider. While we believe in the value we our service can deliver, Betterment may be more costly than your current strategy or alternatives, so it’s important to review fees and the features offered carefully to make an informed decision. Manage your portfolio in one place Many investors appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having their investments in one place. Understanding a fuller picture of your savings can help you determine optimal savings strategies and benefit from more accurate retirement planning guidance. It can also help you to manage your overall risk and portfolio diversification more effectively to keep you on track for long-term success. Maximize your tax efficiency Investors who are saving for retirement at Betterment in at least two types of accounts (taxable, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA) may benefit from more advanced tax strategies like asset location through our Tax-Coordinated Portfolio. Additionally, managing your investments in one place can help you maximize the effectiveness of tax-loss harvesting in your taxable accounts by making sure the activity in your IRA(s) does not result in wash sales. Access personalized advice Betterment offers personalized retirement planning advice and projections via our in-app tooling. For those looking for assistance on topics not covered by our automated guidance, our team of Certified Financial Planners™ is available via our Advice Packages and Premium plan to provide more in-depth financial planning. How do you start the transfer? At Betterment, transfers are simple, automated, and personalized. You can open up a Betterment IRA, receive and review personalized portfolio recommendations, and generate transfer instructions entirely online. If you’re transferring more than $20,000, you’ll have complimentary access to our Licensed Concierge Team. When you’re ready to transfer an IRA account, it’s easy to get started. Sign up for Betterment and log in to your account, click on “Transfer or rollover” at the top right-hand side of your home screen, then answer a few simple questions. In many cases, you can initiate IRA transfers via the industry standard electronic ACATS transfer process and our platform will take care of the process from there. If that’s not an option, our Support and Licensed Concierge Teams are available to help you navigate the transfer requirements and minimize the paperwork required. Once your funds arrive at Betterment, we’ll automatically align them to your new strategy upon receipt and send you another email confirming your transfer has completed. If you have any questions before or during your rollover process please reach out to email@example.com, and our Customer Support Team is here to help.
What’s The Best Crypto to Buy Now? (Hint: There’s Not One)What’s The Best Crypto to Buy Now? (Hint: There’s Not One) Here are three reasons why you shouldn't try to find the “best” cryptocurrency to buy now. (And what you can do instead.) If you decide to go on a Google search hunt for the best cryptocurrency to buy this year, you may find yourself down a rabbit hole in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable part of the internet. (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there at some point.) And if you don’t end up there, you may find yourself on one of the many generic investing websites, all offering you similar “top cryptocurrencies to buy in 2022” lists. You’ll find the usual suspects here, mostly based on market capitalization or even personal preference of the writer. It’s common for these lists to include Bitcoin, Ether, Solana, Cardano, Binance Coin, Polkadot, and Avalanche. All fair examples but no need to do a Google search at this point. Instead of attempting to discover the next best cryptocurrency or token, we favor a different mental model. Ask yourself this question: What’s the best area of crypto to invest in, not now, but over the next three years? (Or whatever time horizon you are investing within.) You’ll see that trying to find the needle in the haystack—and it’s an incredibly large haystack—is probably not the best route to take. Rather, we recommend a more long-term, wide-reaching approach to selecting your investments. Three Reasons Not to Find the "Best" Crypto To sum it up, here are three reasons why you shouldn't try to find the “best” cryptocurrency to buy now. (And what you can do instead.) 1. You’re probably not a professional crypto investor. (And that’s perfectly OK.) If you are like nearly everyone, you’re not a professional crypto investor. Absolutely fine. Similar to any other asset class, non-professional crypto investors are at a disadvantage when it comes to technical resources, market data, and general industry knowledge. At Betterment, we have people whose job it is to research individual crypto assets and analyze the pros and cons of including them on our platform. So instead of pretending to be a crypto day trader in search of a new token that’ll take you to the moon, we recommend staying on planet earth. One way to do this is to learn about broad sectors in crypto and decide for yourself which areas you think may have the most growth potential. Among other things, we’re talking about the metaverse, decentralized finance, and Web 3.0. You could take it a step further and read up on NFTs but you may just be tempted to right-click-save on a picture of an ape that for some strange reason you can’t stop staring at—avoid the temptation, for now. Read up on crypto sectors, and if you’re feeling up to it, try explaining them to your friends or family to see if you grasp the important notes. This approach will give you a wider understanding of the crypto industry and pairs well with our next two recommendations. 2. You don’t have enough time. (Join the club!) Making wise investment decisions takes time. One of the best investors to ever live, Warren Buffet, reads 80% of his day. We’re going to guess you can’t spend 80% of your day reading about crypto. So how do you make up for this? As we said, educate yourself about crypto industry sectors instead of searching for individual assets. But don’t stop once you can explain what the metaverse is and why it could change the future. Yes, you are short on time, but if you have done the work to understand sectors in crypto and are interested in investing, you have two very important questions to ask yourself: How much do I want to allocate into crypto? And what is my time horizon? These are very personal questions. And with the little time you do have, ones worth thinking about. Knowing the amount you are comfortable investing and when you need to withdraw the funds will help you better understand the risks and make a decision that lets you sleep at night. We like sleep. 3. You’re increasing your risk. (Not a good thing.) Investing in one cryptocurrency is not quite comparable to putting all of your eggs in one basket. It’s more like having one egg. One cryptocurrency, like one egg, can be fragile, or in financial language, volatile and prone to losses. It lacks any diversification within the crypto asset class. Diversification is a complex subject, but generally speaking, the goal of diversification is to invest in uncorrelated assets to reduce the risk of losses in a portfolio while enhancing its expected return. Moral of the story: we recommend diversification. Consider how your crypto investments fit into your larger diversified portfolio of uncorrelated assets. Within crypto, you can consider spreading your investments across multiple assets and even multiple sectors within crypto. One way of thinking about it is since predicting the future is near impossible, diversification sets you up for various outcomes. We built diversified crypto portfolios to give you the choice to invest across the crypto asset class.
Investing fundamentals to keep your finances on track.See all Money 101
How I Money: Parents as Roomies and No RegretsHow I Money: Parents as Roomies and No Regrets How one college graduate from the first “Class of Covid” is using living at home to get a leg up on her financial goals. Disclaimer: Surabhi is not a client. She was offered a complimentary call with a licensed Betterment advisor (value of $299) and has a personal relationship with an employee of the firm. Because of this, she has an incentive to recommend Betterment which is a conflict of interest. Views may not be representative, see more reviews at the App Store and Google Play Store. Surabhi didn’t plan on living with her parents after graduating college in 2020, but a global pandemic has a curious way of changing the calculus on life decisions such as these. Faced with a fully-remote work environment as a software engineer, with no commute and no co-workers to mingle with during lockdown, she figured why not? Spending all that solitude — and more importantly, all that money — living in an apartment in downtown Kansas City didn’t seem to make much sense at the time. “Everyone was just at home making TikToks,” she jokes. So after receiving her diploma (in the mail due to commencement being canceled), she moved back into the house where she grew up, 20 minutes south of downtown KC. It’s where we spoke one icy winter day, warming up over a cup of tea made by her mom. Surabhi’s family — mom, dad and younger sister — are close, and that certainly helps on the cohabitation front. They have ample space to spread out, a privilege she’s well-aware of. “A lot of stars had to line up for that [decision to move in] to happen, and I feel grateful for that situation,” she says as we speak in her living room. Pieces of art painted by her younger sister sit on the fireplace mantel. Before Surabhi left for college, the 7-year age gap between them made it hard to relate. But now the gap doesn’t feel so big. They’re spending time together and getting to know each other as peers. It’s one silver lining stemming from the curveball that Covid threw her. That, and a fortuitous head start on her saving goals. “I want to be so financially set that I could live wherever I wanted.” Surabhi’s living situation has become anything but rare. It became the norm, statistically-speaking, during the first summer of the pandemic. That marked the first time a majority of young adults (52%) lived with their parents, a rate not even seen during the Great Depression. Some do so out of financial necessity, in which case, it presents a good opportunity to pursue early financial goals like an emergency fund. For others with more means, it can supercharge their savings for longer-term goals such as a home down payment or retirement. Either way, moving back in with your folks presents a unique opportunity to save on what amounts to the biggest expense for many people: housing. Plenty of variables factor into the cost of housing, but three biggies stand out: How to lower your housing costs Rent vs. own | Renting is, both generally-speaking and in the short-to-mid-term, cheaper than the total cost of owning a home, but what you do with those savings is key. If invested, they have the potential to grow, not unlike the equity you would build over the course of owning a home long-term. Roommates | Going halfsies, thirdsies, or more on rent or a mortgage can reduce your housing costs significantly. Geography | The city you live in has a lot to say about how much housing eats into your budget. Among the 75 biggest metro areas, for example, rent in San Francisco is 560% more expensive than in McAllen, Texas, according to move.org. Proximity to a city’s core also matters, although the trend of remote working is fueling increases in the value of suburban homes that have historically been more affordable. The topic of geography was top-of-mind for Surabhi in the months following graduation, especially as she watched some friends and fellow classmates move to bigger cities. And while she’s open to relocating in the near future, she sees her current setting as ideal for two reasons: It’s given her the time to reflect on what she wants out of her next move, and it’s given her the savings to start laying a foundation for more financial freedom in the future. “I want to be so financially set that I could live wherever I wanted to and not worry about the day-to-day expenses as much,” she says. To that end, Surabhi invests through a 401(k) and Roth IRA, maxing out both. She had the good fortune of being introduced to investing by a mentor in college, long before she had earned her first paycheck as a professional. “He taught me about the market, its ups and downs, and all the intricacies,” she says. “It’s important to find somebody like that in your life, an unbiased third party who’s educated in these spaces.” Not everyone has a person like that in their social circle, she points out. Emphasizing financial literacy more in school could help others, but for many investors, help comes in the form of a professional financial advisor. We connected Surabhi with one of our own advisors as a thank you for her interview. Someone to talk about all the financial topics on her mind. And while it may seem from the outside looking in that she’s well on her way to reaching her financial goals, she knows there will be more curveballs along the way. Perhaps starting with that first rent check or mortgage payment when she eventually moves out. “I will say, that’s going to be kind of a slap in the face,” she says with a slight smile on her face.
Crypto Investing 101Crypto Investing 101 Three questions to ask yourself before you invest in crypto. If you’re taking your first steps into the world of cryptocurrency investing, we recommend asking three questions to gain your footing. Don’t worry, we have some answers to get you moving when you’re ready. And remember, to invest in crypto you don’t have to be an expert. We’re here to be your guide so you can make the best decision for you. Question 1: What is crypto? A simple question with a not so simple answer. To date, there are over 17,000 types of crypto in existence.1 Bitcoin and Ethereum may be household names but the world of crypto extends far beyond their influence. In order to understand crypto, it helps to understand its underlying technology: blockchain. Blockchain is a technology that, in the context of crypto, provides recordkeeping through five foundational features: Immutable: The data can’t be changed. Decentralized: Controlled by a large network of computers instead of a central authority. Distributed: Many parties hold public copies of the ledger. Cryptographically Secure: Makes tampering or changing the data basically impossible. Permissionless: Open to anyone to participate. If you don’t remember any of the five features above, here’s the big idea: The internet enabled the digital flow of information. Blockchain technology enables the digital flow of almost anything of value. What does that mean? It means we can create systems to record ownership without the need for third parties. And we can transfer ownership—using blockchain—between each other without a third party. This creates potential for new economic and business models, which is why there are more than 17,000 types of crypto. Crypto use cases span from art (for example, you can bid on a bored looking ape for only a few hundred thousand dollars) to banking (making financial services available to marginalized groups) to gaming (better grab that plot of land in the metaverse before Snoop Dogg does). All of this is made possible because crypto, built on blockchains, creates new ways to transact in a growing digital economy. Question 2: Why should I invest in crypto? If you want to invest in crypto, reflecting on why can help guide your investments. Crypto is an emerging asset class and is transforming the financial industry. However, you should be careful to understand the risks of cryptocurrency, which can be highly speculative and volatile and can experience sharp drawdowns. Like all investing, this is personal and not without risk, and we encourage you to invest in crypto only when you are comfortable bearing the risk of loss. One of the things that excites us about crypto is the diversity of the ecosystem that is being created. Crypto is far more than simply a digital currency used to buy NFT art or “digital gold” as we see in the headlines. The use cases are creating global investment opportunities available to anyone who chooses to participate. Keep in mind, across the thousands of crypto projects, you do have to look out for scams and fraud. For example, Squid Game may have been a TV show worth binge watching but ended up being a crypto worth almost nothing. But that’s not to say that crypto can’t be used for good. (Fun Fact: Did you know that you can donate crypto to charity? GiveWell, one of Betterment’s partner charities, accepts many different types of crypto!) Here are a few common reasons people invest in crypto: Make Money Crypto investing comes with risks. There can be extreme price fluctuations compared to traditional asset classes. With that said, there is the potential for crypto to rapidly increase in value both over short and long periods of time. Based on Betterment’s research, this is the #1 reason people invest in crypto. And that’s perfectly fine—we invest to create wealth for ourselves and loved ones. Decentralization Many of the projects that create crypto tokens are considered decentralized, which means they aim to remove the control banks and large institutions have on financial services and other business models such as advertising. When applied to traditional finance, this sector of crypto is called Decentralized Finance, or DeFi. Blockchain technology, including digital wallets and smart contracts, can be used to replace banks and other third parties. In theory, this can put users in control, reduce fees, and speed up transactions. (You can send crypto almost instantly to another digital wallet.) Oh, and did we mention that crypto transactions can occur 24/7/365? Another benefit of its decentralized nature. Invest in the Future As we’ve mentioned, crypto spans a broad spectrum of our lives, and it's changing the future, even if we don’t know how yet. By now, you’ve likely heard the term metaverse being casually used, whether by Facebook’s (sorry, we mean Meta’s) CEO Mark Zuckerberg or by a family member at a holiday dinner. It’s everywhere we look. And one way or another, many investors believe the metaverse will be part of our future. Similarly, the concept of Web 3.0, which is a broader evolution of the internet, offers investors many forward thinking investments to consider. The best part? It’s generally accessible to anyone, not just angel investors and venture capitalists. Stepping back, a more general reason for investing in crypto, especially if you are completely new to it, is diversifying your broader investment portfolio. If done correctly, including a small amount of crypto in your overall portfolio may help prevent you from being overly exposed to concentrated risks. Depending on what crypto investments you select, you’ll gain exposure to advancements in the metaverse, decentralized finance, and Web 3.0 technologies, among others. Question 3: How should I invest in crypto? There are many ways to invest in crypto but we’ll boil this down to two categories for you to choose from: Do-It-Yourself Crypto and Managed Crypto Portfolios. Do-It-Yourself Crypto DIY crypto investing involves navigating digital wallets, selecting crypto exchanges, and safekeeping keys (so important!). Before you do any of that, don’t forget you need to research which of the 17,000-plus cryptos you want to invest in while navigating the crypto ecosystem yourself 24/7/365. Particularly because cryptocurrency is so varied and prone to speculation, DIY crypto involves significant upfront research to understand which crypto is the right fit for you. Managed Crypto Portfolios Crypto managed portfolios function similarly to managed equity portfolios. The technology and investment experts that manage the crypto portfolio do much of the heavy lifting (the nitty gritty research of which cryptocurrencies may be appropriate for you based on your financial situation and preferences, the rebalancing and reallocation, and the managing of your account, including wallets/keys) while you can focus on the bigger picture like creating the life you want through your investments. There is still risk with this method of investing in that the underlying cryptocurrencies may experience losses, but it can help you invest in crypto based on your needs and interests, creating a personalized crypto investing experience. Plus, you’ll save time and not have to stress about remembering your digital wallet’s password for fear of losing your Bitcoin forever. Are you ready to invest in crypto? Before you step into crypto investing, make sure you know what you are investing in and why it’s important to you, and try to understand the risks involved. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert. If you reserve the term DIY for weekend trips to the Home Depot, not crypto investing, consider a managed crypto investing portfolio.
How To Keep Your Financial Data SafeHow To Keep Your Financial Data Safe Cybersecurity threats are now the norm. Here's how we work with customers to protect their financial data. When it comes to protecting your financial information, the biggest threats are the most obvious: spam calls, phishing emails, and questionable messages. Scammers are constantly developing new, more devious ways to steal your personal information. With software, they guess millions of passwords per second. They scrape your social media accounts for personal information to manipulate you or your friends. But most of all, they’re counting on you to let your guard down. Here are four ways we can work together to protect your financial data. Caution is your first line of defense If a phone call, email, or message seems fishy, it probably is. Would your bank really ask for your account number over the phone? What comes up when you Google the number? The IRS says they don’t email or text message people, and they’ll never ask for your personal information—so is that really them in your inbox? Why does that link have random characters instead of a URL you recognize? Is that the correct spelling of that company’s name? Don’t ever share personal information unless you’re sure who you’re sharing it with. And make sure that other people don’t have access to your passwords or login information, and you’re not reusing passwords on multiple sites. Two-factor authentication helps secure your account using a passcode that rotates over time, or one that you receive via text or a phone call. Encryption is essential Any time you access a website or use an app, your device communicates with a server. With the right expertise, someone could hijack these communications and steal your information. Encryption prevents this. Encryption takes these sensitive communications and jumbles them up. The only way to un-jumble them? A key that only your device and the server share. It works like this: When you access Betterment, your connection is encrypted. But if you’re ever visiting a third-party site and don’t see the padlock in the browser bar, your connection is not secure. Don’t share any information on those sites! Hashing hides your information—even from us! We don’t need to know your password. That’s a secret only you should know. So, we use a technique called “hashing” to let you use it without telling us what it is. Like encryption, hashing uses an algorithm to turn information (like your password) into an unreadable sequence. But unlike encryption, hashing is irreversible. There’s no key to decipher it. We can’t translate the hashing to read your password. However, every time you enter your password, the hashing algorithm produces the same sequence. So we don’t know your password; we just know if it was entered correctly. App-specific passwords let you securely sync accounts Odds are, between all your investments, savings, payment cards, budgeting apps, and financial assets, you use more than one financial institution. That’s OK. But if you’re trying to get a more complete picture of your financial portfolio and see what you have to work with, it helps to have a single, central account that can see the others. Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to sync external accounts. But if you’re not careful, connecting them can make your financial data more vulnerable. To provide a middle ground between complete access and maximum security, Betterment uses app-specific passwords to sync your external accounts. Let’s say you want to sync your Mint account with Betterment, for example. Mint can generate a separate password that gives Betterment read-only access to your Mint account. You’re not sharing your login credentials, and it won’t give you or anyone else the ability to change your Mint account from within Betterment. But you can still see the information you need to make informed decisions about your money.
Announcements and public statements from our teamSee all News
Betterment’s Progress On Employee RepresentationBetterment’s Progress On Employee Representation Here’s the latest on our efforts to nurture diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging among our team. In 2020, we first shared our employee demographics and commitments to doing better and promised to make public reporting on our progress at regular intervals. A lot has happened at Betterment since then: Sarah Levy joined us as our new CEO, we raised our Series F to continue our mission of Making People’s Lives Better, acquired Makara to fast track a cryptocurrency offering, and grew our team to over 400. We’ve been focused on our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) strategy to drive sustained change for our employees and our broader community. We want to highlight some of the tangible outcomes we've created through community, hiring, retention, and training efforts. We're grateful for the dedication from all of those at Betterment who have made these outcomes possible, and recognize that our work is ongoing, and always will be. Betterment’s Employee Demographic Data We used 2020 as a call-to-action and reviewed our People strategy to make a significant impact on the diversity of our workforce. We implemented a multi-pronged approach focusing on: Recruiting and retention Goal setting and measurement Community-building and engagement, enhanced by creating and supporting ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) Full Time Employees 2020 Full Time Employees 2021 Leadership 2020 Leadership 2021 Recruiting and Retention A deliberate expansion of our candidate sourcing was a critical component of our strategy. We expanded our reach for potential candidates through various sources that are known for diversity hiring and were able to make significant progress, increasing representation of People of Color by 8 percentage points company-wide, with gains in our Black, Latinx, and Two or More Races populations. We also increased representation of women by 3 percentage points. Our Leadership Team is 33% women and 23% People of Color. We attribute much of our progress to our hiring outreach as well as our conscious efforts on inclusion and belonging. In 2021, 52% of our hires were People of Color, 46% were women, and 1% were non-binary. Our internal programming and ERG initiatives (more on these later) have also helped to build community and increase retention. Goal Setting and Measurement A strategic initiative we implemented at the start of 2021 was to incorporate DEIB progress into our company goals, performance metrics and bonus targets. Our bonus targets prioritized employee education and engagement in our DEIB curriculum to build cross-company awareness as well as for personal development. Bonus achievement required meaningful DEIB engagement at all levels of the organization: 100% of all employees participating in our DEIB core education 100% of the Executive Team and 65% of all other employees participating in at least one DEIB event or initiative per quarter A semi-annual qualitative assessment on representation efforts that is reviewed by the Executive Team and shared with the entire company In 2021, we achieved 100% of our bonus targets and we have set the same DEIB bonus weighting for 2022. To support our desire to drive both engagement and education, we refreshed our approach to DEIB education and made it a core pillar of our Talent Development offerings. We provided four streams of programming: All employees, including new hires, completed our online learning course: Inclusion and Belonging in the Workplace. Our Executive Team, People team, and all people managers attended bespoke trainings focused on building psychological safety and inclusive leadership provided by Merging Path & Collective DEI Lab. All employees were encouraged to attend our DEIB Learning Hours, featuring keynote speakers. Employees took advantage of counseling, support and facilitation resources to reflect on bias in the workplace, personal safety, how to overcome barriers and ways to foster support and allyship. Community Building and Engagement A big focus of 2021 was to build community and engagement via our Employee Resource Strategy Groups (“ERSGs”). We believe that the ERSGs are a great vehicle to support inclusion and for employees to develop a sense of belonging here at Betterment. A few facets of the program that contributed to its success included electing leadership for each of our 8 groups; pairing ERSGs with Executive Champions; and providing mentorship and support to build out roadmaps, goals, and budgets for the year. Each ERSG met monthly to build community, produced quarterly events to raise awareness and celebrate recognition months, and flexed their leadership skills working with our CEO, Exec Champs, and the People team. We are pleased with the engagement and the development opportunities the ERSGs have afforded our employees: “AoB provided a safe space to embrace our identities, celebrate our cultures, bring awareness to issues in our communities, and empower us to speak up and share our perspective and experiences with the company - something I used to shy away from or dismiss. It was powerful to connect with peers in this way, and to see people across the organization listen, support, and participate in the unique and diverse cultures we shared.” - Pamela Do, Senior Manager Talent Development who served on the leadership team for Asians of Betterment “Being the President of Black at Betterment was one of my greatest opportunities at Betterment. At a time when the rest of the world was really opening their eyes to the daily experiences of BIPOC—and we ourselves were being pushed to our limits—Black at Betterment was able to provide community, solace, and celebration of our collective and individual identity. Being able to advocate for Black employees and knowing we had voices, empathy, and understanding in the rooms where change happens is something I am constantly grateful for.” – Dan Bound-Black, Black at Betterment, President ‘21 “This experience was a wonderful way to create and strengthen relationships with a diverse group of employees across the Betterment organization. I found it to be a valuable exercise in helping grow and nurture a team of leaders that was facing many of the typical challenges one would expect on any team trying to get things done. I am grateful to the entire team for welcoming me into their conversations and both taking my feedback seriously and also pushing back when they disagreed. I believe they helped me grow as a leader and equipped me to help ensure Betterment continues on its journey to becoming a more inclusive organization." - Mike Reust, President of Betterment who served as Exec Champ to Black at Betterment Conclusion We’re proud of the progress we’ve made over the past 18 months to scale our diversity and inclusion efforts and increase representation of People of Color and women at Betterment. Our journey is a testament to the commitment and focus across the team and our community. We’re looking forward to building on the strong foundation we’ve laid so far to continue to make Betterment a place where everyone can do their best work and where all identities are reflected and appreciated. If this sounds like a place where you’d like to work, check out our careers page!
How Memestocks Affected Investors’ Actions And EmotionsHow Memestocks Affected Investors’ Actions And Emotions We surveyed 1,500 investors to examine “the rise of the day trader.” Money and emotions have long gone hand-in-hand, and this is no more apparent than during significant financial crises. From the 2008 market crash to COVID-19’s economic impact, we’ve seen first hand how money has the ability to impact our stress levels, mental health and personal relationships. And yet in times of particular financial strife—or likely because of it— many people take actions with their money that often undermine their emotional wellbeing, sacrificing long-term happiness for short-term pleasure without even realizing it at the time. This trend toward short-termism grew in 2020: people stuck inside, on screens all day and kept from their normal activities sought new ways to fill their time and energy. Many took up day trading, culminating in one of the wildest rides at the beginning of 2021 (and recent surges demonstrating people are still trying to head to the moon) with Gamestop, AMC, Blackberry and other retail stocks caught in the middle of a clash between amateur retail and institutional investors. Following this eventful start to the year, Betterment was curious to see both the immediate and long-term impact this had on investors, particularly those involved in the action. In this report -- a survey of 1,500 active investors conducted by a third party -- we took a look at the rise of day trading activity and the impact it did (or didn’t have) on people’s behavior. From their own forecasts, it looks like “the rise of the day trader” is here to stay -- but forecasting is hard. None of us would have bet on the pandemic and the changes it's causing. People actually aren't very good at forecasting their own preferences and behavior in the future, so it will be interesting to see if said forecasts actually come to fruition. Regardless, at Betterment we welcome the addition of consumers looking to learn more about the markets and, ultimately, how to balance their portfolios for the long-term too. Section 1: The Rise Of Day Trading Activity With movie theaters, stadiums, bars and restaurants closed, many people took up day trading during the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of our total respondents said they actively day trade investments, and nearly half of those day-traders (49%) have been doing it for 2 years or less. While most day traders indicated their main reason for doing so was that they believed they could make more money in a shorter period of time (58%), many (43%) also indicated it was because it is fun and entertaining. Of those who look to day trading for fun/entertainment, half (52%) said it was to make up for the bulk of their other hobbies—like sports, live music, social gatherings, gambling—not being available due to COVID-19. And these day traders have fully acknowledge that COVID-19 played a big impact role in their market activity overall: 54% indicated they trade more often as a result of COVID-19; and interestingly, 58% said they expect to day trade more as normal activities return and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, likely as a result of what they learned during this downtime. Only 12% said they expect to trade less. More than half (58%) are using less than 30% of their portfolio to actively trade individual securities or stocks. Nearly two thirds also allow an advisor (either online or in-person) to manage a separate part of their portfolio. It's interesting to see more respondents expect to day trade more after the pandemic than are currently day trading: we imagine it is hard for people to forecast themselves into the future and imagine doing things differently than they are now. However, what is positive to see is these people aren’t using an excessive amount of their portfolio to day trade. The majority of investors day trade with a minority of their total investing balance, and delegate day-to-day management of the larger portion of their portfolio to an advisor. Passing hobby or not, how educated is the average day trader on what they’re buying and what they stand to gain—or lose? Sixty one percent rely on financial news websites to decide which stocks to buy, but nearly half (42%) are influenced by social media accounts, showing just how powerful “memestocks” can be. More than half of the respondents suggested they buy stocks based on company names they’re familiar with, but we’ve seen this lead to issues in the past—with “ticker mis-matches,” where people trade the ticker of a stock that isn't the correct company. For example, after a tweet from Elon Musk about Signal (a non-profit messaging app), a different company’s stock was sent soaring 3,092%. We also asked day trader respondents if they consider capital gains taxes when deciding to sell their investments. While the majority (60%) indicated that it influences them to hold onto stocks longer to avoid short-term capital gains, 14% said they weren’t aware there was a difference in taxes based on how long they hold a stock. Another 17% said they simply don’t care about the short-term capital gains tax. Who invested their stimmys? Almost all (91%) respondents received some stimulus money, and nearly half (46%) invested some of that money; of those who did invest it, 70% invested half or less of their stimulus. Day trader and male respondents were more likely to invest then their counterparts, as represented in the graphic below. Section 2: Memestocks Understanding And Involvement We asked all respondents how well they understood what occurred in the stock market in January & February surrounding “memestocks” like GameStop, AMC, BlackBerry and other retail investments. Most indicated having some level of understanding, but nearly a quarter (24%) of all respondents said they didn’t understand it well at all; and only half (51%) of day trader respondents said they understood what happened very well. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of all survey respondents said they did not actively purchase any popular retail investments (GameStop, AMC, BlackBerry, etc.) during the stock market rally in January or February. But those that DID were primarily day traders. Of all respondents that did buy in actively, 55% are still holding onto all their investments. Only 2% of those that sold these investments sold everything at a loss; 44% sold all for a profit and 54% sold some at a profit and some at a loss. Of those that bought into memestocks, there is a near universal consensus that they will continue investing in stocks like these that get a lot of attention in the future—97% said they’re at least somewhat likely to invest. Betterment's Point Of View: It is interesting to see the majority of respondents holding onto their investments - are they expecting another high or holding on because they don't want to admit they made a bad investment? Disposition Effect says people tend to hold on until they get back to zero loss. However, 60% previously said thinking of short-term capital gains taxes encourages them to hold onto their investments longer. Section 3: Money And Stress Factors It’s no secret that money and stress are linked, so we wanted to take a look at respondents’ money habits and how that may be impacting stress levels. The consensus is that for better and for worse day traders and younger generations are more engaged with their finances. We asked respondents how much they stress about their finances on a daily basis—three quarters said they stress to some degree. Interestingly, when we looked a layer deeper, day traders are much more stressed than non-day trader—86% indicated they stress to some degree, vs 65% of their counterparts. In looking at the causes of the stress: respondents are nearly equally concerned about money in the short term, near term future, and long term future with the top 3 financial stress factors being their daily expenses (43%), how much money they will have in retirement (43%), and how much money they have saved (42%). We asked respondents how often they are checking their bank account and investment portfolio balances - 39% are looking at their bank account balances every day, with 11% of those checking multiple times a day; 37% also check their investment portfolio balances every day, with 16% of those checking multiple times a day. When we look a layer deeper, we find that day traders are checking both their bank account and investment portfolio balances significantly more than non-day traders. Interesting Bank Account Habits 50% of day traders indicated they check at least once a day (18% multiple times) vs 29% of non-daytraders (5% multiple times). Men check their accounts more often—41% at least once a day (13% multiple times) vs 36% of women (8% multiple times). 46% of Gen Z/Millennials and Gen X both said they check their accounts at least once a day, whereas only 28% of Boomers said the same. Those making more money actually check their accounts more often—42% of respondents making $100K or more check every day, compared to 39% of those making between $50-100K and 35% of those making less than $50K. Interesting Investment Account Habits Unsurprisingly, 56% of day traders said they check their investment portfolio balances every day (25% multiple times a day), whereas only 18% of non-day traders said the same. 41% of men check every day, compared to 30% of women. 47% of Gen Z/Millennials check every day, compared to 41% of Gen X and 22% of Boomers. 42% of those making 100K or more check every day, compared to 35% making between $50-100K and 30% of those making less than $50K. Encouragingly, when we asked people how they felt checking these accounts, the positive responses outweighed negative options for both. Interestingly, day traders were significantly more excited for both (21% for bank accounts, 25% for investments) than non-day traders (4% and 12%, respectively) as well. Most respondents (89%) indicated they’re putting some money away every month, but it's equally split as to where that money is actually going. Conclusion At Betterment, we have often compared day trading to going to Vegas—have a great time, enjoy yourself, but be prepared to come back home with fewer dollars in your wallet and a hangover. The trends outlined in this report seem to indicate that more people are dipping their toe into the investing pool and (so far) few have decided to walk away. Whether this trend will continue—and the long term impact it will have on people’s finances, health, stress, etc.—remains to be seen. And for those who want to avoid the FOMO of the next big memestock, but aren’t sure of the best way to get started—a simple alternative is investing in a well-diversified portfolio. That way, whenever someone asks if you own the hottest thing, you can say “yes,” regardless of what it is. Methodology An online survey was conducted with a panel of potential respondents from April 26, 2021 to May 3, 2021. The survey was completed by a total of 1,500 respondents who are 18 years and older and have any kind of investment (excluded if only 401k). Of the 1,500 respondents, 750 of them actively day traded their investments while the other 750 did not. The sample was provided by Market Cube, a research panel company. All respondents were invited to take the survey via an email invitation. Panel respondents were incentivized to participate via the panel’s established points program, regardless of positive or negative feedback. Participants were not required to be Betterment clients to participate. Findings and analysis are presented for informational purposes only and are not intended to be investment advice, nor is this indicative of client sentiment or experience. Any links provided to other websites are offered as a matter of convenience and are not intended to imply that Betterment or its authors endorse, sponsor, promote, and/or are affiliated with the owners of or participants in those sites, unless stated otherwise.
The Pursuit Of Betterment’s New CEO (And Finding Happiness Along The Way)The Pursuit Of Betterment’s New CEO (And Finding Happiness Along The Way) Betterment Founder Jon Stein announces the appointment of Sarah Kirshbaum Levy as his successor and new CEO of Betterment. It’s the fall of 2007 on the Lower East Side. My Betterment clock starts not when we launch in 2010 but as I hash out the concept in conversations with roommates and friends. I have a crazy idea: to pursue my happiness via helping Americans pursue their happiness. I write a mission statement: empower customers to do what’s best with their money so they can live better. Investing feels complicated to most people, but the best practices are known and straightforward. Why not take the smart services used by the wealthy and institutions and make them accessible to every American? People like this crazy idea, some join me, and with sweat and sacrifice, a tiny, hungry, customer-impact-obsessed company is born. I pursue Betterment’s mission doggedly. My wife (whom I met in 2006—not coincidentally—her encouragement begets a startup) calls Betterment my “first child.” I say often (usually sincerely): “I’m the luckiest person, I have the best job in the world.” At times, it feels like all of my being, every waking hour, every dream, is intertwined with my company. I am Betterment. There is nothing else. Teammates become best friends (and each other's family: I officiate weddings of Bettementers who later have Betterment babies). I star in TV ads—never imagined that career turn. Early customers email me personally for support (and some still do—love y’all, customers). We grow to $25B AUM, more than 500,000 customers, a team of more than 300, and we move the industry forward. And yet, I know we can achieve more; we have millions more Americans to reach. The Pursuit Of Our Potential For some time, I look to bring in an experienced, dynamic operating leader to help drive the company forward. The search is not initially focused on one specific role to fill; it is about finding amazing talent that could help lead Betterment to realize our full potential. The time at home this year affords more time to devote to the search process, to talk to senior operating leaders and to think about what might be needed for the next leg of the journey. I spend time with hundreds of diverse candidates. I realize that the best way to achieve our mission might be to invite a successor to lead Betterment in the next phase of growth. Due to good fortune and intense effort in a most challenging year, the company has never been in a stronger position. Each line of business is reaching new heights in 2020. We’re beating targets, well-capitalized, with wind at our backs. It’s a good time to hand over the reins. Over the summer, I connect with Sarah Kirshbaum Levy. There is something enthralling about her. I don’t want to jinx or overload it, but outside of meeting my wife, it’s hard, at present, to think of a more consequential introduction. And this is over video conference! The Pursuit Of The One Over the next few months, I spend more time with Sarah and she begins engaging with members of the team and our board. I bring her in full-time as a consultant in a trial run. What a privilege not only to recruit my successor, but to observe her building relationships, to work side by side with her as she iterates on her plan, and to see her making every meeting more open and efficient. I give her my authority to work with the team to architect plans for 2021 and beyond, and she excels. My admiration grows as she starts effectively running the company, with my proxy. My execs tell me they have so much to learn from her. The only thing that is missing is the title—and today, we give her the title. Sarah’s Pursuits Sarah started out at Disney and spent the last 20 years at Viacom, home to beloved brands including Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, and Comedy Central. Through a series of senior leadership roles, culminating in Chief Operating Officer, she’s shepherded global phenomena, from SpongeBob to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, connecting with audiences in meaningful ways. With her experiences leading large public companies, Sarah is the right executive to lead Betterment now, as we contemplate a transition from private to public in the coming years. For someone with a “big company” pedigree, she’s remarkably down to earth and scrappy. She’s launched and grown businesses, bought and sold businesses, managed the bottom line, and driven consumer brands to win. I appreciate her “outsider” perspective. Betterment is a unique company—not just finance, not just tech, 100% customer-impact obsessed. Take it from one who’s looked: It’d be hard to find someone who’s both spent a career in financial services and can credibly lead the change we envision: to empower customers to do what’s best with their money, so they can live better. The Pursuit Of Happiness I’ve done the best work of my life at Betterment, and I have worked too hard to stop giving it my all to realize this company’s mission, whatever form those efforts may take. From my role on the board, I’ll be supporting Sarah and her team, whether it be via recruiting, investor relations, telling our story, or upholding company culture and values. A dream for me since that Lower East Side fall in 2007 has been to build a sustainable institution, to build something that will outlast me. I’ve never taken a larger step toward that accomplishment than I am today in passing the torch to Sarah. I asked Sarah what mattered most to her in her next role, and she said, without hesitation, “A brand and mission I believe in.” She’s evidenced this for me in every interaction since. I believe that she’ll more fully realize the vision I laid out years ago, and make Betterment the most beloved, most essential financial brand for this generation. And in so doing, she’ll power the pursuit of happiness for millions of Americans.
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How Betterment Anticipates Market Volatility—So You Don’t Have ToHow Betterment Anticipates Market Volatility—So You Don’t Have To It’s difficult to endure volatile markets when it affects your investment portfolio. Betterment has automated features in place to help address volatile markets when they occur. If you’ve ever been told to “sit tight and stay the course” when the market is dropping and your investment account is worth less than it was just moments ago, you’re not alone. Financial advisors, including Betterment, love this mantra and repeat it anytime there’s a market downturn—which every investor should be prepared to navigate at some point. But being told to do nothing when your account balance is dropping can feel like an inadequate response. And, unless your investment strategy has been designed from the ground up to anticipate and react to market volatility, you may be right. The reason Betterment advises our customers not to react or adjust their investment strategy during a market downturn is because our entire platform was designed with inevitable downturns of the market in mind. This article will cover how our investment portfolio creation process, ongoing automated account management system, and dynamic advice are designed with market fluctuations in mind, so that you can “sit tight and stay the course” and feel confident it’s actually the right thing to do. Our portfolios are constructed with market volatility in mind Betterment’s portfolio construction process strives to design a portfolio strategy that is diversified, increases value by managing costs, and enables good tax management. Ultimately, our goal is to help you build wealth. This means: Our intent is to create portfolios designed to have a better chance of making money and a lower chance of losing it. At a baseline, our allocation recommendations are based on various assumptions, including a range of possible outcomes, in which we give slightly more weight to potential negative ones, by building in a margin of safety—otherwise known as ‘downside risk’ or uncertainty optimization. So, even before you’ve invested your first dollar, your portfolio has already been designed to account for the market fluctuations you will inevitably experience throughout the course of your investment journey, including situations like the big downturns like 2008 and the more recent market crash in 2020. Furthermore, our risk recommendations consider the amount of time you’ll be invested. For goals with a longer time horizon, we advise that you hold a larger portion of your portfolio in stocks. A portfolio with greater holdings in stocks is more likely to experience losses in the short-term, but is also more likely to generate greater long-term gains. For shorter-term goals, we recommended a lower stock allocation. This helps to avoid large drops in your balance right before you plan to withdraw and use what you’ve saved. All you have to do is: Tell us what you are saving for (your investing goal). Let us know how long you plan to be invested (your time horizon). We take care of the rest. By using your personal assumptions, in conjunction with our general downside risk framework, we’re able to recommend a globally diversified portfolio of stock and bond ETFs that has an initial risk level recommended just for you. Our automated portfolio management features keep you on track during downturns How we construct our globally diversified portfolios and the risk framework we apply to each investor’s specific allocation recommendation is just the starting point. It’s our ongoing and automated portfolio management that provides an additional value-add, especially in times of heightened volatility. Our automated features like allocation adjustments over time, portfolio rebalancing, tax loss harvesting for those who select it, and updated advice when you need it, can help keep your investing goals on track during a downturn. Automated Allocation Adjustments When we ask you to tell us about your investment objective, including how long you plan to be invested for, it helps us choose the appropriate asset allocation for you throughout the course of your investment time horizon, not just in the beginning. For most Betterment goals, we usually recommend that you scale down your risk as your goal’s end date gets closer, which helps to reduce the chance that your balance will drastically fall if the market drops. This is an especially important consideration for an investor who plans to use their funds in the near term. We call this recommendation “auto-adjust” or a goal’s “glidepath”—a gradual reduction of stocks in favor of bonds. And instead of leaving this responsibility up to you, you can opt into our auto-adjust feature in eligible portfolio selections, which means our system monitors your account and adjusts your portfolio’s allocation automatically over time. Automated Portfolio Rebalancing Normal stock market fluctuations will likely cause your actual allocation to drift away from your portfolio target, which is calculated to be the optimal level of risk you should be taking on. We call this process portfolio drift, and though a small amount of drift is perfectly normal—and a mathematical certainty—a large amount of drift could expose your portfolio to unwanted risks. When the market fluctuates, not all of your investments are shifting to the same degree. For example, stocks are generally more volatile than bonds. As you can imagine, a period of sustained volatility could mean a significant shift in how your portfolio is actually allocated, relative to where it should be. Left unchecked, this drift could be harmful to your portfolio’s performance, which is why at Betterment our portfolio management system provides ongoing monitoring of your portfolio in order to determine whether rebalancing is needed once your account balance is at or past the minimum threshold. While we generally use any cash inflows, like deposits or dividends, and outflows, like withdrawals, to help rebalance your portfolio organically over time, when a significant market drop occurs, there might be a need to sell investments that have appreciated and buy investments that have depreciated, in order to adjust your portfolio back to its optimal allocation. Consider an instance where the value of your stock investments has dropped significantly and now your bond investments are overweighted relative to your stocks. Our rebalancing system might be triggered to correct the drift. Not only would our automated rebalancing seek to ensure your portfolio’s allocation is realigned relative to its target, it would also mean buying stocks at their currently cheaper price point, setting you up nicely for any market recovery. Furthermore, if effective rebalancing does require selling investments in a taxable account, the specific shares to be sold are selected tax-efficiently. This is designed with the aim that no short-term gains are realized. We never want the tax impact of maintaining proper diversification to counter the benefits of applying our risk framework. Automated Tax Loss Harvesting Tax Loss Harvesting is a feature that may benefit you most when the market is volatile. After all, if there aren’t any losses in your account, we can’t harvest them. Our automated TLH software monitors your account for opportunities to effectively harvest tax losses that can be used to reduce capital gains that you have realized through other investments in the same tax year. This can potentially reduce your tax bill, thereby increasing your total returns, especially if you have a lot of short-term capital gains, which are taxed at a higher rate than long-term capital gains. And, if you’ve harvested more losses than you have in realized capital gains, you can use up to an additional $3,000 in losses to reduce your taxable income. Any unused losses from the current tax year can be carried over indefinitely and used in subsequent years. Keep in mind, however, that everyone’s tax situation is different—and Tax Loss Harvesting+ may not be suitable for yours. In general, we don’t recommend it if: Your future tax bracket will be higher than your current tax bracket. You can currently realize capital gains at a 0% tax rate. You’re planning to withdraw a large portion of your taxable assets in the next 12 months. You risk causing wash sales due to having substantially identical investments elsewhere. Our dynamic financial advice works for you during market fluctuations Much like the automated features described in the section above, the advice we give our customers is dynamic and updates automatically based on many factors, including market performance. Just as your car’s GPS recommends the best route to take to reach your destination, Betterment recommends a tailored path toward reaching your financial goals. And just as the GPS updates its recommended route based on road conditions and accidents, we update our advice based on various circumstances, such as a market downturn. In addition to recommending a starting risk level tied to your specific objective, we also estimate how much you need to save. In the case of a really big market drop, we might advise you to do something about it, such as make a single lump-sum deposit, which will help keep your portfolio on track. Recognizing that coming up with sizable excess cash can be tough to do, we’ll also suggest a recurring monthly deposit number that may be more realistic. And, if it’s early on in a long-term goal, it’s unlikely you’ll need to change anything significantly, because you still have a lot of time on your side. Conclusion The path to investment growth can be bumpy, and negative or lower than expected returns are bound to make an investor feel uncertain. But, staying disciplined and sticking to your plan can pay off. Betterment’s investing advice has been purpose-built with all the worst and the best the market may throw at us in mind by focusing on three key elements: intentional portfolio construction, automated portfolio features, and advice that reflects market conditions. Feel confident that Betterment’s hard at work, for you, so that you can truly sit tight and stay the course.
Asset Location MethodologyAsset Location Methodology Intelligently applying asset location to a globally diversified portfolio is a complex, mathematically rigorous, and continuous undertaking. TABLE OF CONTENTS Summary Part I: Introduction to Asset Location Part II: After-Tax Return—Deep Dive Part III: Asset Location Myths Part IV: TCP Methodology Part V: Monte Carlo on the Amazon—Betterment’s Testing Framework Part VI: Results Part VII: Special Considerations Addendum Summary Asset location is widely regarded as the closest thing there is to a "free lunch" in the wealth management industry.1 When investments are held in at least two types of accounts (out of three possible types: taxable, tax-deferred and tax-exempt), asset location provides the ability to deliver additional after-tax return potential, while maintaining the same level of risk. Generally speaking, this benefit is achieved by placing the least tax-efficient assets in the accounts taxed most favorably, and the most tax-efficient assets in the accounts taxed least favorably, all while maintaining the desired asset allocation in the aggregate. Part I: Introduction to Asset Location Maximizing after-tax return on investments can be complex. Still, most investors know that contributing to tax-advantaged (or "qualified") accounts is a relatively straightforward way to pay less tax on their retirement savings. Millions of Americans wind up with some combination of IRAs and 401(k) accounts, both available in two types: traditional or Roth. Many will only save in a taxable account once they have maxed out their contribution limits for the qualified accounts. But while tax considerations are paramount when choosing which account to fund, less thought is given to the tax impact of which investments to then purchase across all accounts. The tax profiles of the three account types (taxable, traditional, and Roth) have implications for what to invest in, once the account has been funded. Choosing wisely can significantly improve the after-tax value of one’s savings, when more than one account is in the mix. Almost universally, such investors can benefit from a properly executed asset location strategy. The idea behind asset location is fairly straightforward. Certain investments generate their returns in a more tax-efficient manner than others. Certain accounts shelter investment returns from tax better than others. Placing, or "locating" less tax-efficient investments in tax-sheltered accounts should increase the after-tax value of the overall portfolio. Allocate First, Locate Second Let’s start with what asset location isn’t. All investors must select a mix of stocks and bonds, finding an appropriate balance of risk and expected return, in line with their goals. One common goal is retirement, in which case, the mix of assets should be tailored to match the investor’s time horizon. This initial determination is known as "asset allocation," and it comes first. When investing in multiple accounts, it is common for investors to simply recreate their desired asset allocation in each account. If each account, no matter the size, holds the same assets in the same proportions, adding up all the holdings will also match the desired asset allocation. If all these funds, however scattered, are invested towards the same goal, this is the right result. The aggregate portfolio is the one that matters, and it should track the asset allocation selected for the common goal. Portfolio Managed Separately in Each Account Enter asset location, which can only be applied once a desired asset allocation is selected. Each asset’s after-tax return is considered in the context of every available account. The assets are then arranged (unequally) across all coordinated accounts to maximize the after-tax performance of the overall portfolio. Same Portfolio Overall—With Asset Location To help conceptualize asset location, consider a team of runners. Some runners compete better on a track than a cross-country dirt path, as compared to their more versatile teammates. Similarly, certain asset classes benefit more than others from the tax-efficient "terrain" of a qualified account. Asset allocation determines the composition of the team, and the overall portfolio’s after-tax return is a team effort. Asset location then seeks to match up asset and environment in a way that maximizes the overall result over time, while keeping the composition of the team intact. TCP vs. TDF The primary appeal of a target-date fund (TDF) is the "set it and forget it" simplicity with which it allows investors to select and maintain a diversified asset allocation, by purchasing only one fund. That simplicity comes at a price—because each TDF is a single, indivisible security, it cannot unevenly distribute its underlying assets across multiple accounts, and thus cannot deliver the additional after-tax returns of asset location. In particular, participants who are locked into 401(k) plans without automated management may find that a cheap TDF is still their best "hands off" option (plus, a TDF’s ability to satisfy the Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA) requirement under ERISA ensures its baseline survival under current law). Participants in a Betterment at Work plan can already enable Betterment’s Tax-Coordinated Portfolio feature (“TCP”) to manage a single portfolio across their 401(k), IRAs and taxable accounts they individually have with Betterment, designed to squeeze additional after-tax returns from their aggregate long-term savings. Automated asset location (when integrated with automated asset allocation) replicates what makes a TDF so appealing, but effectively amounts to a "TDF 2.0"—a continuously managed portfolio, but one that can straddle multiple accounts for tax benefits. Next, we dive into the complex dynamics that need to be considered when seeking to optimize the after-tax return of a diversified portfolio. Part II: After-Tax Return—Deep Dive A good starting point for a discussion of investment taxation is the concept of "tax drag." Tax drag is the portion of the return that is lost to tax on an annual basis. In particular, funds pay dividends, which are taxed in the year they are received. However, there is no annual tax in qualified accounts, also sometimes known as "tax-sheltered accounts." Therefore, placing assets that pay a substantial amount of dividends into a qualified account, rather than a taxable account, "shelters" those dividends, and reduces tax drag. Reducing the tax drag of the overall portfolio is one way that asset location improves the portfolio’s after-tax return. Importantly, investments are also subject to tax at liquidation, both in the taxable account, and in a traditional IRA (where tax is deferred). However, "tax drag", as that term is commonly used, does not include liquidation tax. So while the concept of "tax drag" is intuitive, and thus a good place to start, it cannot be the sole focus when looking to minimize taxes. What is "Tax Efficiency" A closely related term is "tax efficiency" and this is one that most discussions of asset location will inevitably focus on. A tax-efficient asset is one that has minimal "tax drag." Prioritizing assets on the basis of tax efficiency allows for asset location decisions to be made following a simple, rule-based approach. Both "tax drag" and "tax efficiency" are concepts pertaining to taxation of returns in a taxable account. Therefore, we first consider that account, where the rules are most elaborate. With an understanding of these rules, we can layer on the impact of the two types of qualified accounts. Returns in a Taxable Account There are two types of investment income, and two types of applicable tax rates. Two types of investment tax rates. All investment income in a taxable brokerage account is subject to one of two rate categories (with material exceptions noted). For simplicity, and to keep the analysis universal, this section only addresses federal tax (state tax is considered when testing for performance). Ordinary rate: For most, this rate mirrors the marginal tax bracket applicable to earned income (primarily wages reported on a W-2). For all but the lowest earners, that bracket will range from 25% to 39.6%. Preferential rate: This more favorable rate ranges from 15% to 20% for most investors. For especially high earners, both rates are subject to an additional tax of 3.8%, making the highest possible ordinary and preferential rates 43.4% and 23.8%, respectively. Two types of investment returns. Investments generate returns in two ways: by appreciating in value, and by making cash distributions. Capital gains: When an investment is sold, the difference between the proceeds and the tax basis (generally, the purchase price) is taxed as capital gains. If held for longer than a year, this gain is treated as long-term capital gains (LTCG) and taxed at the preferential rate. If held for a year or less, the gain is treated as short-term capital gains (STCG), and taxed at the ordinary rate. Barring unforeseen circumstances, passive investors should be able to avoid STCG entirely. Betterment’s automated account management seeks to avoid STCG when possible,4 and the rest of this paper assumes only LTCG on liquidation of assets. Dividends: Bonds pay interest, which is taxed at the ordinary rate, whereas stocks pay dividends, which are taxed at the preferential rate (both subject to the exceptions below). An exchange-traded fund (ETF) pools the cash generated by its underlying investments, and makes payments that are called dividends, even if some or all of the source was interest. These dividends inherit the tax treatment of the source payments. This means that, generally, a dividend paid by a bond ETF is taxed at the ordinary rate, and a dividend paid by a stock ETF is taxed at the preferential rate. Qualified Dividend Income (QDI): There is an exception to the general rule for stock dividends. Stock dividends enjoy preferential rates only if they meet the requirements of qualified dividend income (QDI). Key among those requirements is that the company issuing the dividend must be a U.S. corporation (or a qualified foreign corporation). A fund pools dividends from many companies, only some of which may qualify for QDI. To account for this, the fund assigns itself a QDI percentage each year, which the custodian uses to determine the portion of the fund’s dividends that are eligible for the preferential rate. For stock funds tracking a U.S. index, the QDI percentage is typically 100%. However, funds tracking a foreign stock index will have a lower QDI percentage, sometimes substantially. For example, VWO, Vanguard’s Emerging Markets Stock ETF, had a QDI percentage of 38% in 2015, which means that 38% of its dividends for the year were taxed at the preferential rate, and 62% were taxed at the ordinary rate. Tax-exempt interest: There is also an exception to the general rule for bonds. Certain bonds pay interest that is exempt from federal tax. Primarily, these are municipal bonds, issued by state and local governments. This means that an ETF which holds municipal bonds will pay a dividend that is subject to 0% federal tax—even better than the preferential rate. The table below summarizes these interactions. Note that this section does not consider tax treatment for those in a marginal tax bracket of 15% and below. These taxpayers are addressed in "Special Considerations." Dividends (taxed annually) Capital Gains (taxed when sold) Ordinary Rate Most bonds Non-QDI stocks (foreign) Any security held for a year or less (STCG) Preferential Rate QDI stocks (domestic and some foreign) Any security held for more than a year (LTCG) No Tax Municipal bonds Any security transferred upon death or donated to charity The impact of rates is obvious: The higher the rate, the higher the tax drag. Equally important is timing. The key difference between dividends and capital gains is that the former are taxed annually, contributing to tax drag, whereas tax on the latter is deferred. Tax deferral is a powerful driver of after-tax return, for the simple reason that the savings, though temporary, can be reinvested in the meantime, and compounded. The longer the deferral, the more valuable it is. Putting this all together, we arrive at the foundational piece of conventional wisdom, where the most basic approach to asset location begins and ends: Bond funds are expected to generate their return entirely through dividends, taxed at the ordinary rate. This return benefits neither from the preferential rate, nor from tax deferral, making bonds the classic tax-inefficient asset class. These go in your qualified account. Stock funds are expected to generate their return primarily through capital gains. This return benefits both from the preferential rate, and from tax deferral. Stocks are therefore the more tax-efficient asset class. These go in your taxable account. Tax-Efficient Status: It’s Complicated Reality gets messy rather quickly, however. Over the long term, stocks are expected to grow faster than bonds, causing the portfolio to drift from the desired asset allocation. Rebalancing may periodically realize some capital gains, so we cannot expect full tax deferral on these returns (although if cash flows exist, investing them intelligently can reduce the need to rebalance via selling). Furthermore, stocks do generate some return via dividends. The expected dividend yield varies with more granularity. Small cap stocks pay relatively little (these are growth companies that tend to reinvest any profits back into the business) whereas large cap stocks pay more (as these are mature companies that tend to distribute profits). Depending on the interest rate environment, stock dividends can exceed those paid by bonds. International stocks pay dividends too, and complicating things further, some of those dividends will not qualify as QDI, and will be taxed at the ordinary rate, like bond dividends (especially emerging markets stock dividends). Returns in a Tax-Deferred Account (TDA) Compared to a taxable account, a TDA is governed by deceptively simple rules. However, earning the same return in a TDA involves trade-offs which are not intuitive. Applying a different time horizon to the same asset can swing our preference between a taxable account and a TDA.Understanding these dynamics is crucial to appreciating why an optimal asset location methodology cannot ignore liquidation tax, time horizon, and the actual composition of each asset’s expected return.Although growth in a traditional IRA or traditional 401(k) is not taxed annually, it is subject to a liquidation tax. All the complexity of a taxable account described above is reduced to two rules. First, all tax is deferred until distributions are made from the account, which should begin only in retirement. Second, all distributions are taxed at the same rate, no matter the source of the return. The rate applied to all distributions is the higher ordinary rate, except that the additional 3.8% tax will not apply to those whose tax bracket in retirement would otherwise be high enough.2 First, we consider income that would be taxed annually at the ordinary rate (i.e. bond dividends and non-QDI stock dividends). The benefit of shifting these returns to a TDA is clear. In a TDA, these returns will eventually be taxed at the same rate, assuming the same tax bracket in retirement. But that tax will not be applied until the end, and compounding due to deferral can only have a positive impact on the after-tax return, as compared to the same income paid in a taxable account.3 In particular, the risk is that LTCG (which we expect plenty of from stock funds) will be taxed like ordinary income. Under the basic assumption that in a taxable account, capital gains tax is already deferred until liquidation, favoring a TDA for an asset whose only source of return is LTCG is plainly harmful. There is no benefit from deferral, which you would have gotten anyway, and only harm from a higher tax rate. This logic supports the conventional wisdom that stocks belong in the taxable account. First, as already discussed, stocks do generate some return via dividends, and that portion of the return will benefit from tax deferral. This is obviously true for non-QDI dividends, already taxed as ordinary income, but QDI can benefit too. If the deferral period is long enough, the value of compounding will offset the hit from the higher rate at liquidation. Second, it is not accurate to assume that all capital gains tax will be deferred until liquidation in a taxable account. Rebalancing may realize some capital gains "prematurely" and this portion of the return could also benefit from tax deferral. Placing stocks in a TDA is a trade-off—one that must weigh the potential harm from negative rate arbitrage against the benefit of tax deferral. Valuing the latter means making assumptions about dividend yield and turnover. On top of that, the longer the investment period, the more tax deferral is worth. Kitces demonstrates that a dividend yield representing 25% of total return (at 100% QDI), and an annual turnover of 10%, could swing the calculus in favor of holding the stocks in a TDA, assuming a 30-year horizon.4 For foreign stocks with less than perfect QDI, we would expect the tipping point to come sooner. Returns in a Tax-Exempt Account (TEA) Investments in a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) grow tax free, and are also not taxed upon liquidation. Since it eliminates all possible tax, a TEA presents a particularly valuable opportunity for maximizing after-tax return. The trade-off here is managing opportunity cost—every asset does better in a TEA, so how best to use its precious capacity? Clearly, a TEA is the most favorably taxed account. Conventional wisdom thus suggests that if a TEA is available, we use it to first place the least tax-efficient assets. But that approach is wrong. Everything Counts in Large Amounts—Why Expected Return Matters The powerful yet simple advantage of a TEA helps illustrate the limitation of focusing exclusively on tax efficiency when making location choices. Returns in a TEA escape all tax, whatever the rate or timing would have been, which means that an asset’s expected after-tax return equals its expected total return. When both a taxable account and a TEA are available, it may be worth putting a high-growth, low-dividend stock fund into the TEA, instead of a bond fund, even though the stock fund is vastly more tax-efficient. Similar reasoning can apply to placement in a TDA as well, as long as the tax-efficient asset has a large enough expected return, and presents some opportunity for tax deferral (i.e., some portion of the return comes from dividends). Part III: Asset Location Myths Urban Legend 1: Asset location is a one-time process. Just set it and forget it. While an initial location may add some value, doing it properly is a continuous process, and will require adjustments in response to changing conditions. Note that overlaying asset location is not a deviation from a passive investing philosophy, because optimizing for location does not mean changing the overall asset allocation (the same goes for tax loss harvesting). Other things that will change, all of which should factor into an optimal methodology: expected returns (both the risk-free rate, and the excess return), dividend yields, QDI percentages, and most importantly, relative account balances. Contributions, rollovers, and conversions can increase qualified assets relative to taxable assets, continuously providing more room for additional optimization. Urban Legend 2: Taking advantage of asset location means you should contribute more to a particular qualified account than you otherwise would. Definitely not! Asset location should play no role in deciding which accounts to fund. It optimizes around account balances as it finds them, and is not concerned with which accounts should be funded in the first place. Just because the presence of a TEA makes asset location more valuable, does not mean you should contribute to a TEA, as opposed to a TDA. That decision is primarily a bet on how your tax rate today will compare to your tax rate in retirement. To hedge, some may find it optimal to make contributions to both a TDA and TEA (this is called "tax diversification"). While these decisions are out of scope for this paper, Betterment’s retirement planning tools can help clients with these choices. Urban Legend 3: Asset location has very little value if one of your accounts is relatively small. It depends. Asset location will not do much for investors with a very small taxable balance and a relatively large balance in only one type of qualified account, because most of the overall assets are already sheltered. However, a large taxable balance and a small qualified account balance (especially a TEA balance) presents a better opportunity. Under these circumstances, there may be room for only the least tax-efficient, highest-return assets in the qualified account. Sheltering a small portion of the overall portfolio can deliver a disproportionate amount of value. Urban Legend 4: Asset location has no value if you are investing in both types of qualified accounts, but not in a taxable account. A TEA offers significant advantages over a TDA. Zero tax is better than a tax deferred until liquidation. While tax efficiency (i.e. annual tax drag) plays no role in these location decisions, expected returns and liquidation tax do. The assets we expect to grow the most should be placed in a TEA, and doing so will plainly increase the overall after-tax return. There is an additional benefit as well. Required minimum distributions (RMDs) apply to TDAs but not TEAs. Shifting expected growth into the TEA, at the expense of the TDA, will mean lower RMDs, giving the investor more flexibility to control taxable income down the road. In other words, a lower balance in the TDA can mean lower tax rates in retirement, if higher RMDs would have pushed the retiree into a higher bracket. This potential benefit is not captured in our results. Urban Legend 5: Bonds always go in the IRA. Possibly, but not necessarily. This commonly asserted rule is a simplification, and will not be optimal under all circumstances. It is discussed at more length below. Existing Approaches to Asset Location: Advantages and Limitations Optimizing for After-Tax Return While Maintaining Separate Portfolios One approach to increasing after-tax return on retirement savings is to maintain a separate, standalone portfolio in each account with roughly the same level of risk-adjusted return, but tailoring each portfolio somewhat to take advantage of the tax profile of the account. Effectively, this means that each account separately maintains the desired exposure to stocks, while substituting certain asset classes for others. Generally speaking, managing a fully diversified portfolio in each account means that there is no way to avoid placing some assets with the highest expected return in the taxable account. This approach does include a valuable tactic, which is to differentiate the high-quality bonds component of the allocation, depending on the account they are held in. The allocation to the component is the same in each account, but in a taxable account, it is represented by municipal bonds which are exempt from federal tax , and in a qualified account, by taxable investment grade bonds . This variation is effective because it takes advantage of the fact that these two asset classes have very similar characteristics (expected returns, covariance and risk exposures) allowing them to play roughly the same role from an asset allocation perspective. Municipal bonds, however, are highly tax-efficient, and are very compelling in a taxable account. Taxable investment grade bonds have significant tax drag, and work best in a qualified account. Betterment has applied this substitution since 2014. The Basic Priority List Gobind Daryanani and Chris Cordaro sought to balance considerations around tax efficiency and expected return, and illustrated that when both are very low, location decisions with respect to those assets have very limited impact.5 That study inspired Michael Kitces, who leverages its insights into a more sophisticated approach to building a priority list.6 To visually capture the relationship between the two considerations, Kitces bends the one-dimensional list into a "smile." Asset Location Priority List Assets with a high expected return that are also very tax-efficient go in the taxable account. Assets with a high expected return that are also very tax-inefficient go in the qualified accounts, starting with the TEA. The "smile" guides us in filling the accounts from both ends simultaneously, and by the time we get to the middle, whatever decisions we make with respect to those assets just "don’t matter" much. However, Kitces augments the graph in short order, recognizing that the basic "smile" does not capture a third key consideration—the impact of liquidation tax. Because capital gains will eventually be realized in a taxable account, but not in a TEA, even a highly tax-efficient asset might be better off in a TEA, if its expected return is high enough. The next iteration of the "smile" illustrates this preference. Asset Location Priority List with Limited High Return Inefficient Assets Part IV: TCP Methodology There is no one-size-fits-all asset location for every set of inputs. Some circumstances apply to all investors, but shift through time—the expected return of each asset class (which combines separate assumptions for the risk-free rate and the excess return), as well as dividend yields, QDI percentages, and tax laws. Other circumstances are personal—which accounts the client has, the relative balance of each account, and the client’s time horizon. Solving for multiple variables while respecting defined constraints is a problem that can be effectively solved by linear optimization. This method is used to maximize some value, which is represented by a formula called an "objective function." What we seek to maximize is the after-tax value of the overall portfolio at the end of the time horizon. We get this number by adding together the expected after-tax value of every asset in the portfolio, but because each asset can be held in more than one account, each portion must be considered separately, by applying the tax rules of that account. We must therefore derive an account-specific expected after-tax return for each asset. Deriving Account-Specific After-Tax Return To define the expected after-tax return of an asset, we first need its total return (i.e., before any tax is applied). The total return is the sum of the risk-free rate (same for every asset) and the excess return (unique to every asset). Betterment derives excess returns using the Black-Litterman model as a starting point. This common industry method involves analyzing the global portfolio of investable assets and their proportions, and using them to generate forward-looking expected returns for each asset class. Next, we must reduce each total return into an after-tax return.7 The immediate problem is that for each asset class, the after-tax return can be different, depending on the account, and for how long it is held. In a TEA, the answer is simple—the after-tax return equals the total return—no calculation necessary. In a TDA, we project growth of the asset by compounding the total return annually. At liquidation, we apply the ordinary rate to all of the growth.8 We use what is left of the growth after taxes to derive an annualized return, which is our after-tax return. In a taxable account, we need to consider the dividend and capital gain component of the total return separately, with respect to both rate and timing. We project growth of the asset by taxing the dividend component annually at the ordinary rate (or the preferential rate, to the extent that it qualifies as QDI) and adding back the after-tax dividend (i.e., we reinvest it). Capital gains are deferred, and the LTCG is fully taxed at the preferential rate at the end of the period. We then derive the annualized return based on the after-tax value of the asset.9 Note that for both the TDA and taxable calculations, time horizon matters. More time means more value from deferral, so the same total return can result in a higher annualized after-tax return. Additionally, the risk-free rate component of the total return will also depend on the time horizon, which affects all three accounts. Because we are accounting for the possibility of a TEA, as well, we actually have three distinct after-tax returns, and thus each asset effectively becomes three assets, for any given time horizon (which is specific to each Betterment customer). The Objective Function To see how this comes together, we first consider an extremely simplified example. Let’s assume we have a taxable account, both a traditional and Roth account, with $50,000 in each one, and a 30-year horizon. Our allocation calls for only two assets: 70% equities (stocks) and 30% fixed income (bonds). With a total portfolio value of $150,000, we need $105,000 of stocks and $45,000 of bonds. 1. These are constants whose value we already know (as derived above). req,tax is the after-tax return of stocks in the taxable account, over 30 years req,trad is the after-tax return of stocks in the traditional account, over 30 years req,roth is the after-tax return of stocks in the Roth account, over 30 years rfi,tax is the after-tax return of bonds in the taxable account, over 30 years rfi,trad is the after-tax return of bonds in the traditional account, over 30 years rfi,roth is the after-tax return of bonds in the Roth account, over 30 years 2. These are the values we are trying to solve for (called "decision variables"). xeq,tax is the amount of stocks we will place in the taxable account xeq,trad is the amount of stocks we will place in the traditional account xeq,roth is the amount of stocks we will place in the Roth account xfi,tax is the amount of bonds we will place in the taxable account xfi,trad is the amount of bonds we will place in the traditional account xfi,roth is the amount of bonds we will place in the Roth account 3. These are the constraints which must be respected. All positions for each asset must add up to what we have allocated to the asset overall. All positions in each account must add up to the available balance in each account. xeq,tax + xeq,trad + xeq,roth = 105,000 xfi,tax + xfi,trad + xfi,roth = 45,000 xeq,tax + xfi,tax = 50,000 xeq,trad + xfi,trad = 50,000 xeq,roth + xfi,roth = 50,000 4. This is the objective function, which uses the constants and decision variables to express the after-tax value of the entire portfolio, represented by the sum of six terms (the after-tax value of each asset in each of the three accounts). maxx req,taxxeq,tax + req,tradxeq,trad + req,rothxeq,roth + rfi,taxxfi,tax + rfi,tradxfi,trad + rfi,rothxfi,roth Linear optimization turns all of the above into a complex geometric representation, and mathematically closes in on the optimal solution. It assigns values for all decision variables in a way that maximizes the value of the objective function, while respecting the constraints. Accordingly, each decision variable is a precise instruction for how much of which asset to put in each account. If a variable comes out as zero, then that particular account will contain none of that particular asset. An actual Betterment portfolio can potentially have twelve asset classes,15 depending on the allocation. That means TCP must effectively handle up to 36 "assets," each with its own after-tax return. However, the full complexity behind TCP goes well beyond increasing assets from two to twelve. Updated constants and constraints will trigger another part of the optimization, which determines what TCP is allowed to sell, in order to move an already coordinated portfolio toward the newly optimal asset location, while minimizing taxes. Reshuffling assets in a TDA or TEA is "free" in the sense that no capital gains will be realized.10 In the taxable account, however, TCP will attempt to move as close as possible towards the optimal asset location without realizing capital gains. Expected returns will periodically be updated, either because the risk-free rate has been adjusted, or because new excess returns have been derived via Black-Litterman. Future cash flows may be even more material. Additional funds in one or more of the accounts could significantly alter the constraints which define the size of each account, and the target dollar allocation to each asset class. Such events (including dividend payments, subject to a de minimis threshold) will trigger a recalculation, and potentially a reshuffling of the assets. Cash flows, in particular, can be a challenge for those managing their asset location manually. Inflows to just one account (or to multiple accounts in unequal proportions) create a tension between optimizing asset location and maintaining asset allocation, which is hard to resolve without mathematical precision. To maintain the overall asset allocation, each position in the portfolio must be increased pro-rata. However, some of the additional assets we need to buy "belong" in other accounts from an asset location perspective, even though new cash is not available in those accounts. If the taxable account can only be partially reshuffled due to built-in gains, we must choose either to move farther away from the target allocation, or the target location.11 With linear optimization, our preferences can be expressed through additional constraints, weaving these considerations into the overall problem. When solving for new cash flows, TCP penalizes allocation drift higher than it does location drift. Against this background, it is important to note that expected returns (the key input into TCP, and portfolio management generally) are educated guesses at best. No matter how airtight the math, reasonable people will disagree on the "correct" way to derive them, and the future may not cooperate, especially in the short-term. There is no guarantee that any particular asset location will add the most value, or even any value at all. But given decades, the likelihood of this outcome grows. Part V: Monte Carlo—Betterment’s Testing Framework To test the output of the linear optimization method, we turned to a Monte Carlo testing framework,12 built entirely in-house by Betterment’s experts. The forward-looking simulations model the behavior of the TCP strategy down to the individual lot level. We simulate the paths of these lots, accounting for dividend reinvestment, rebalancing, and taxation. The simulations applied Betterment’s rebalancing methodology, which corrects drift from the target asset allocation in excess of 3% once the account balance meets or exceeds the required threshold, but stops short of realizing STCG, when possible. Betterment’s management fees were assessed in all accounts, and ongoing taxes were paid annually from the taxable account. All taxable sales first realized available losses before touching LTCG. The simulations assume no additional cash flows other than dividends. This is not because we do not expect them to happen. Rather, it is because making assumptions around these very personal circumstances does nothing to isolate the benefit of TCP specifically. Asset location is driven by the relative sizes of the accounts, and cash flows will change these ratios, but the timing and amount is highly specific to the individual.19 Avoiding the need to make specific assumptions here helps keep the analysis more universal. We used equal starting balances for the same reason.13 For every set of assumptions, we ran each market scenario while managing each account as a standalone (uncoordinated) Betterment portfolio as the benchmark.14 We then ran the same market scenarios with TCP enabled. In both cases, we calculated the after-tax value of the aggregate portfolio after full liquidation at the end of the period.15 Then, for each market scenario, we calculated the after-tax annualized internal rates of return (IRR) and subtracted the benchmark IRR from the TCP IRR. That delta represents the incremental tax alpha of TCP for that scenario. The median of those deltas across all market scenarios is the estimated tax alpha we present below for each set of assumptions. Part VI: Results More Bonds, More Alpha A higher allocation to bonds leads to a dramatically higher benefit across the board. This makes sense—the heavier your allocation to tax-inefficient assets, the more asset location can do for you. To be extremely clear: this is not a reason to select a lower allocation to stocks! Over the long-term, we expect a higher stock allocation to return more (because it’s riskier), both before, and after tax. These are measurements of the additional return due to TCP, which say nothing about the absolute return of the asset allocation itself. Conversely, a very high allocation to stocks shows a smaller (though still real) benefit. However, younger customers invested this aggressively should gradually reduce risk as they get closer to retirement (to something more like 50% stocks). Looking to a 70% stock allocation is therefore an imperfect but reasonable way to generalize the value of the strategy over a 30-year period. More Roth, More Alpha Another pattern is that the presence of a Roth makes the strategy more valuable. This also makes sense—a taxable account and a TEA are on opposite ends of the "favorably taxed" spectrum, and having both presents the biggest opportunity for TCP’s "account arbitrage." But again, this benefit should not be interpreted as a reason to contribute to a TEA over a TDA, or to shift the balance between the two via a Roth conversion. These decisions are driven by other considerations. TCP’s job is to optimize the relative balances as it finds them. Enabling TCP On Existing Taxable Accounts TCP should be enabled before the taxable account is funded, meaning that the initial location can be optimized without the need to sell potentially appreciated assets. A Betterment customer with an existing taxable account who enables TCP should not expect the full incremental benefit, to the extent that assets with built-in capital gains need to be sold to achieve the optimal location. This is because TCP conservatively prioritizes avoiding a certain tax today, over potentially reducing tax in the future. However, the optimization is performed every time there is a deposit (or dividend) to any account. With future cash flows, the portfolio will move closer to whatever the optimal location is determined to be at the time of the deposit. Part VII: Special Considerations Low Bracket Taxpayers: Beware Taxation of investment income is substantially different for those who qualify for a marginal tax bracket of 15% or below. To illustrate, we have modified the chart from Part II to apply to such low bracket taxpayers. Dividends Capital Gains Ordinary Rate N/A Any security held for a year or less (STCG) Preferential Rate N/A N/A No Tax Qualified dividends from any security are not taxed Any security held for a year or more is not taxed (LTCG) TCP is not designed for these investors. Optimizing around this tax profile would reverse many assumptions behind TCP’s methodology. Municipal bonds no longer have an advantage over other bond funds. The arbitrage opportunity between the ordinary and preferential rate is gone. In fact, there’s barely tax of any kind. It is quite likely that such investors would not benefit much from TCP, and may even reduce their overall after-tax return. If the low tax bracket is temporary, TCP over the long-term may still make sense. Also note that some combinations of account balances can, in certain circumstances, still add tax alpha for investors in low tax brackets. One example is when an investor only has traditional and Roth IRA accounts, and no taxable accounts being tax coordinated. Low bracket investors should very carefully consider whether TCP is suitable for them. As a general rule, we do not recommend it. Potential Problems with Coordinating Accounts Meant for Different Time Horizons We began with the premise that asset location is sensible only with respect to accounts that are generally intended for the same purpose. This is crucial, because unevenly distributing assets will result in asset allocations in each account that are not tailored towards the overall goal (or any goal at all). This is fine, as long as we expect that all coordinated accounts will be available for withdrawals at roughly the same time (e.g. at retirement). Only the aggregate portfolio matters in getting there. However, uneven distributions are less diversified. Temporary drawdowns (e.g., the 2008 financial crisis) can mean that a single account may drop substantially more than the overall coordinated portfolio. If that account is intended for a short-term goal, it may not have a chance to recover by the time you need the money. Likewise, if you do not plan on depleting an account during your retirement, and instead plan on leaving it to be inherited for future generations, arguably this account has a longer time horizon than the others and should thus be invested more aggressively. In either case, we do not recommend managing accounts with materially different time horizons as a single portfolio. For a similar reason, you should avoid applying asset location to an account that you expect will be long-term, but one that you may look to for emergency withdrawals. For example, a Safety Net Goal should never be managed by TCP. Large Upcoming Transfers/Withdrawals If you know you will be making large transfers in or out of your tax-coordinated accounts, you may want to delay enabling our tax coordination tool until after those transfers have occurred. This is because large changes in the balances of the underlying accounts can necessitate rebalancing, and thus may cause taxes. With incoming deposits, we can intelligently rebalance your accounts by purchasing asset classes that are underweight. But when large withdrawals or transfers out are made, despite Betterment’s intelligent management of executing trades, some taxes can be unavoidable when rebalancing to your overall target allocation. The only exception to this rule is if the large deposit will be in your taxable account instead of your IRAs. In that case, you should enable tax-coordination before depositing money into the taxable account. This is so our system knows to tax-coordinate you immediately. The goal of tax coordination is to reduce the drag taxes have on your investments, not cause additional taxes. So if you know an upcoming withdrawal or outbound transfer could cause rebalancing, and thus taxes, it would be prudent to delay enabling tax coordination until you have completed those transfers. Mitigating Behavioral Challenges Through Design There is a broader issue that stems from locating assets with different volatility profiles at the account level, but it is behavioral. Uncoordinated portfolios with the same allocation move together. Asset location, on the other hand, will cause one account to dip more than another, testing an investor’s stomach for volatility. Those who enable TCP across their accounts should be prepared for such differentiated movements. Rationally, we should ignore this—after all, the overall allocation is the same—but that is easier said than done. How TCP Interacts with Tax Loss Harvesting+ TCP and TLH work in tandem, seeking to minimize tax impact. As described in more detail below, the precise interaction between the two strategies is highly dependent on personal circumstances. While it is possible that enabling a TCP may reduce harvest opportunities, both TLH and TCP derive their benefit without disturbing the desired asset allocation. Operational Interaction TLH+ was designed around a "tertiary ticker" system, which ensures that no purchase in an IRA or 401(k) managed by Betterment will interfere with a harvested loss in a Betterment taxable account. A sale in a taxable account, and a subsequent repurchase of the same asset class in a qualified account would be incidental for accounts managed as separate portfolios. Under TCP, however, we expect this to occasionally happen by design. When "relocating" assets, either during initial setup, or as part of ongoing optimization, TCP will sell an asset class in one account, and immediately repurchase it in another. The tertiary ticker system allows this reshuffling to happen seamlessly, while attempting to protect any tax losses that are realized in the process. Conceptualizing Blended Performance TCP will affect the composition of the taxable account in ways that are hard to predict, because its decisions will be driven by changes in relative balances among the accounts. Meanwhile, the weight of specific asset classes in the taxable account is a material predictor of the potential value of TLH (more volatile assets should offer more harvesting opportunities). The precise interaction between the two strategies is far more dependent on personal circumstances, such as today’s account balance ratios and future cash flow patterns, than on generally applicable inputs like asset class return profiles and tax rules. These dynamics are best understood as a hierarchy. Asset allocation comes first, and determines what mix of asset classes we should stick to overall. Asset location comes second, and continuously generates tax alpha across all coordinated accounts, within the constraints of the overall portfolio. Tax loss harvesting comes third, and looks for opportunities to generate tax alpha from the taxable account only, within the constraints of the asset mix dictated by asset location for that account. TLH is usually most effective in the first several years after an initial deposit to a taxable account. Over decades, however, we expect it to generate value only from subsequent deposits and dividend reinvestments. Eventually, even a substantial dip is unlikely to bring the market price below the purchase price of the older tax lots. Meanwhile, TCP aims to deliver tax alpha over the entire balance of all three accounts for the entire holding period. *** Betterment does not represent in any manner that TCP will result in any particular tax consequence or that specific benefits will be obtained for any individual investor. The TCP service is not intended as tax advice. Please consult your personal tax advisor with any questions as to whether TCP is a suitable strategy for you in light of your individual tax circumstances. Please see our Tax-Coordinated Portfolio Disclosures for more information. Addendum As of May 2020, for customers who indicate that they’re planning on using a Health Savings Account (HSA) for long-term savings, we allow the inclusion of their HSA in their Tax-Coordinated Portfolio. If an HSA is included in a Tax-Coordinated Portfolio, we treat it essentially the same as an additional Roth account. This is because funds within an HSA grow income tax-free, and withdrawals can be made income tax-free for medical purposes. With this assumption, we also implicitly assume that the HSA will be fully used to cover long-term medical care spending. The tax alpha numbers presented above have not been updated to reflect the inclusion of HSAs, but remain our best-effort point-in-time estimate of the value of TCP at the launch of the feature. As the inclusion of HSAs allows even further tax-advantaged contributions, we contend that the inclusion of HSAs is most likely to additionally benefit customers who enable TCP. 1"Boost Your After-Tax Investment Returns." Susan B. Garland. Kiplinger.com, April 2014. 2But see "How IRA Withdrawals In The Crossover Zone Can Trigger The 3.8% Medicare Surtax," Michael Kitces, July 23, 2014. 3It is worth emphasizing that asset location optimizes around account balances as it finds them, and has nothing to say about which account to fund in the first place. Asset location considers which account is best for holding a specified dollar amount of a particular asset. However, contributions to a TDA are tax-deductible, whereas getting a dollar into a taxable account requires more than a dollar of income. 4Pg. 5, The Kitces Report. January/February 2014. 5Daryanani, Gobind, and Chris Cordaro. 2005. "Asset Location: A Generic Framework for Maximizing After-Tax Wealth." Journal of Financial Planning (18) 1: 44–54. 6The Kitces Report, March/April 2014. 7While the significance of ordinary versus preferential tax treatment of income has been made clear, the impact of an individual’s specific tax bracket has not yet been addressed. Does it matter which ordinary rate, and which preferential rate is applicable, when locating assets? After all, calculating the after-tax return of each asset means applying a specific rate. It is certainly true that different rates should result in different after-tax returns. However, we found that while the specific rate used to derive the after-tax return can and does affect the level of resulting returns for different asset classes, it makes a negligible difference on resulting location decisions. The one exception is when considering using very low rates as inputs (the implication of which is discussed under "Special Considerations"). This should feel intuitive: Because the optimization is driven primarily by the relative size of the after-tax returns of different asset classes, moving between brackets moves all rates in the same direction, generally maintaining these relationships monotonically. The specific rates do matter a lot when it comes to estimating the benefit of the asset location chosen, so rate assumptions are laid out in the "Results" section. In other words, if one taxpayer is in a moderate tax bracket, and another in a high bracket, their optimal asset location will be very similar and often identical, but the high bracket investor may benefit more from the same location. 8In reality, the ordinary rate is applied to the entire value of the TDA, both the principal (i.e., the deductible contributions) and the growth. However, this will happen to the principal whether we use asset location or not. Therefore, we are measuring here only that which we can optimize. 9TCP today does not account for the potential benefit of a foreign tax credit (FTC). The FTC is intended to mitigate the potential for double taxation with respect to income that has already been taxed in a foreign country. The scope of the benefit is hard to quantify and its applicability depends on personal circumstances. All else being equal, we would expect that incorporating the FTC may somewhat increase the after-tax return of certain asset classes in a taxable account—in particular developed and emerging markets stocks. If maximizing your available FTC is important to your tax planning, you should carefully consider whether TCP is the optimal strategy for you. 10Standard market bid-ask spread costs will still apply. These are relatively low, as Betterment considers liquidity as a factor in its investment selection process. Betterment customers do not pay for trades. 11Additionally, in the interest of making interaction with the tool maximally responsive, certain computationally demanding aspects of the methodology were simplified for purposes of the tool only. This could result in a deviation from the target asset location imposed by the TCP service in an actual Betterment account. 12Another way to test performance is with a backtest on actual market data. One advantage of this approach is that it tests the strategy on what actually happened. Conversely, a forward projection allows us to test thousands of scenarios instead of one, and the future is unlikely to look like the past. Another limitation of a backtest in this context—sufficiently granular data for the entire Betterment portfolio is only available for the last 15 years. Because asset location is fundamentally a long-term strategy, we felt it was important to test it over 30 years, which was only possible with Monte Carlo. Additionally, Monte Carlo actually allows us to test tweaks to the algorithm with some confidence, whereas adjusting the algorithm based on how it would have performed in the past is effectively a type of "data snooping". 13That said, the strategy is expected to change the relative balances dramatically over the course of the period, due to unequal allocations. We expect a Roth balance in particular to eventually outpace the others, since the optimization will favor assets with the highest expected return for the TEA. This is exactly what we want to happen. 14For the uncoordinated taxable portfolio, we assume an allocation to municipal bonds (MUB) for the high-quality bonds component, but use investment grade taxable bonds (AGG) in the uncoordinated portfolio for the qualified accounts. While TCP makes use of this substitution, Betterment has offered it since 2014, and we want to isolate the additional tax alpha of TCP specifically, without conflating the benefits. 15Full liquidation of a taxable or TDA portfolio that has been growing for 30 years will realize income that is guaranteed to push the taxpayer into a higher tax bracket. We assume this does not happen, because in reality, a taxpayer in retirement will make withdrawals gradually. The strategies around timing and sequencing decumulation from multiple account types in a tax-efficient manner are out of scope for this paper. Additional References Berkin. A. "A Scenario Based Approach to After-Tax Asset Allocation." 2013. Journal of Financial Planning. Jaconetti, Colleen M., CPA, CFP®. Asset Location for Taxable Investors, 2007. https://personal.vanguard.com/pdf/s556.pdf. Poterba, James, John Shoven, and Clemens Sialm. "Asset Location for Retirement Savers." November 2000. https://faculty.mccombs.utexas.edu/Clemens.Sialm/PSSChap10.pdf. Reed, Chris. "Rethinking Asset Location - Between Tax-Deferred, Tax-Exempt and Taxable Accounts." Accessed 2015. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2317970. Reichenstein, William, and William Meyer. "The Asset Location Decision Revisited." 2013. Journal of Financial Planning 26 (11): 48–55. Reichenstein, William. 2007. "Calculating After-Tax Asset Allocation is Key to Determining Risk, Returns, and Asset Location." Journal of Financial Planning (20) 7: 44–53.
Socially Responsible Investing Portfolios MethodologySocially Responsible Investing Portfolios Methodology See the methodology for our Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) portfolios. Table of Contents Introduction How do we define SRI? The Challenges of SRI Portfolio Construction How is Betterment’s Broad Impact portfolio constructed? How is Betterment’s Climate Impact portfolio constructed? How is Betterment’s Social Impact portfolio constructed? Conclusion Introduction Betterment first made a values-driven portfolio available to our customers in 2017, under the Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) label, and has maintained SRI as the umbrella term for the category in subsequent expansions and updates to that offering. Betterment’s portfolios represent a diversified, relatively low-cost solution that will be continually improved upon as costs decline, more data emerges, and as a result, the availability of SRI funds broadens (in this paper, “funds” refer to ETFs, and “SRI funds” refer to either ETFs screened for some form of ESG criteria or ETFs with an SRI-focused shareholder engagement strategy). Within Betterment’s SRI options, we offer a Broad Impact portfolio and two additional, more focused SRI portfolio options, a Social Impact SRI portfolio (focused on social governance criteria) and a Climate Impact SRI portfolio (focused on climate-conscious investments). How do we define SRI? Our approach to SRI has three fundamental dimensions: Reducing exposure to companies involved in unsustainable activities and environmental, social, or governmental controversies. Increasing investments in companies that work to address solutions for core environmental and social challenges in measurable ways. Allocating to investments that use shareholder engagement tools, such as shareholder proposals and proxy voting, to incentivize socially responsible corporate behavior. We first define our SRI approach using a set of industry criteria known as “ESG”, which stands for Environmental, Social and Governance, and then expand upon the ESG-investing framework with complementary shareholder engagement tools. SRI is the traditional name for the broad concept of values-driven investing (many experts now favor “sustainable investing” as the name for the entire category). ESG refers specifically to the quantifiable dimensions of a company’s standing along each of its three components. In our SRI portfolios, we use ESG factors to define and score the degree to which our portfolios incorporate socially responsible ETFs. We also complement our ESG factor-scored socially responsible ETFs with engagement-based socially responsible ETFs, where a fund manager uses shareholder engagement tools to express a socially responsible preference. Using ESG Factors In An SRI Approach A significant and obvious aspect of improving a portfolio’s ESG score is reducing exposure to companies that engage in unsustainable activities in your investment portfolio. Companies can be considered undesirable because their businesses do not align with specific values—e.g. selling tobacco, military weapons, or civilian firearms. Other companies may be undesirable because they have been involved in recent and ongoing ESG controversies and have yet to make amends in a meaningful way. SRI is about more than just adjusting your portfolio to minimize companies with a poor social impact. Based on the framework of MSCI, an industry-leading provider of financial data and ESG analytics that has served the financial industry for more than 40 years, a socially responsible investment approach also emphasizes the inclusion of companies that have a high overall ESG score, which represents an aggregation of scores for multiple thematic issues across E, S, and G pillars as shown in Table 1 below. Table 1. A Broad Set of Criteria Across E, S and G pillars 3 Pillars 10 Themes 35 Key ESG Issues Environment Climate Change Carbon Emissions Product Carbon Footprint Financing Environmental Impact Climate Change Vulnerability Natural Resources Water Stress Biodiversity & Land Use Raw Material Sourcing Pollution & Waste Toxic Emissions & Waste Electronic Waste Packaging Material & Waste Environmental Opportunities Opportunities in Clean Technology Opportunities in Renewable Energy Opportunities in Green Building Social Human Capital Labor Management Human Capital Development Health & Safety Supply Chain Labor Standards Product Liability Product Safety & Quality Privacy & Data Security Chemical Safety Responsible Investment Consumer Financial Protection Health & Demographic Risk Stakeholder Opposition Controversial Sourcing Community Relations Social Opportunities Access to Communications Access to Health Care Access to Finance Opportunities in Nutrition & Health Governance Corporate Governance Board Ownership Pay Accounting Corporate Behavior Business Ethics Tax Transparency Source: MSCI Ratings Methodology Shareholder Engagement The most direct ways a shareholder can influence a company’s decision making is through shareholder proposals and proxy voting. Publicly traded companies have annual meetings where they report on the business’ activities to shareholders. As a part of these meetings, shareholders can vote on a number of topics such as share ownership, the composition of the board of directors, and executive level compensation. Investors receive information on the topics to be voted on prior to the meeting in the form of a proxy statement, and can vote on these topics through a proxy card. A shareholder proposal is an explicit recommendation from an investor for the company to take a specific course of action. Shareholders can also propose their own nominees to the company’s board of directors. Once a shareholder proposal is submitted, the proposal or nominee is included in the company’s proxy information and is voted on at the next annual shareholders meeting. ETF shareholders themselves do not vote in the proxy voting process of underlying companies, but rather the ETF fund issuer participates in the proxy voting process on behalf of their shareholders. As investors signal increasing interest in ESG engagement, more ETF fund issuers have emerged that play a more active role engaging with underlying companies through proxy voting to advocate for more socially responsible corporate practices. These issuers use engagement-based strategies, such as shareholder proposals and director nominees, to engage with companies to bring about ESG change and allow investors in the ETF to express a socially responsible preference. The Challenges of SRI Portfolio Construction For Betterment, three limitations had a large influence on our overall approach to building an SRI portfolio: 1. Poor quality data underlying ESG scoring. Because SRI is still gaining traction, data for constructing ESG scores are at a nascent stage of development. There are no uniform standards for data quality yet. In order to standardize the process of assessing companies’ social responsibility practices, Betterment uses ESG factor scores from MSCI, who collects data from multiple sources, company disclosures, and over 1,600 media sources monitored daily. They also employ a robust monitoring and data quality review process. See the MSCI ESG Fund Ratings Executive Summary for more detail. 2. Many existing SRI offerings in the market have serious shortcomings. Many SRI offerings today sacrifice sufficient diversification appropriate for investors who seek market returns, allocate based on competing ESG issues and themes that reduce a portfolio’s effectiveness, and do not provide investors an avenue to use collective action to bring about ESG change. Betterment’s SRI portfolios do not sacrifice global diversification and all three portfolios include a partial allocation to an engagement-based socially responsible ETF using shareholder advocacy as a means to bring about ESG-change in corporate behavior. These approaches allow Betterment investors to take a diversified approach to sustainable investing and use their investments to bring about ESG-change. Engagement-based socially responsible ETFs have expressive value in that they allow investors to signal their interest in ESG issues to companies and the market more broadly, even if particular shareholder campaigns are unsuccessful. The Broad Impact portfolio seeks to balance each of the three dimensions of ESG without diluting different dimensions of social responsibility. With our Social Impact portfolio, we sharpen the focus on social equity with partial allocations to gender and racial diversity focused funds. With our Climate Impact portfolio, we sharpen the focus on controlling carbon emissions and fostering green solutions. 3. Integrating values into an ETF portfolio may not always meet every investor’s expectations, though it offers unique advantage For investors who prioritize an absolute exclusion of specific types of companies above all else, the ESG Scoring approach will inevitably fall short of expectations. For example, many of the largest ESG funds focused on US Large Cap stocks include some energy companies that engage in oil and natural gas exploration, like Hess. While Hess might rate relatively poorly along the “E” pillar of ESG, it could still rate highly in terms of the “S” and the “G.” Furthermore, maintaining our core principle of global diversification, to ensure both domestic and international bond exposure, we’re still allocating to some funds without an ESG mandate, until satisfactory solutions are available within those asset classes. We expect that increased asset flows across the industry into such funds would continue to drive down expense ratios and increase liquidity. Since the original offering, which was the predecessor to what is now our Broad Impact portfolio, we’ve been able to expand the ESG exposure to now also cover Developed Market stocks, Emerging Market stocks, and US High Quality Bonds. We also now include ESG exposure to an engagement-based fund. Sufficient options also exist for us to branch out in two different areas of focus—Climate Impact, and Social Impact. 4. Most available SRI-oriented ETFs present liquidity limitations. In an effort to control the overall cost for SRI investors, a large portion of our research focused on low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) oriented toward SRI. While SRI-oriented ETFs indeed have relatively low expense ratios compared to SRI mutual funds, our analysis revealed insufficient liquidity in many ETFs currently on the market. Without sufficient liquidity, every execution becomes more expensive, creating a drag on returns. Median daily dollar volume is one way of estimating liquidity. Higher volume on a given asset means that you can quickly buy (sell) more of that asset in the market without driving the price up (down).The degree to which you can drive the price up or down with your buying or selling must be treated as a cost that can drag down on your returns. In balancing cost and value for the Broad Impact portfolio, the options were limited to funds that focus on US stocks , Developed Market stocks, Emerging Market stocks, US Investment Grade Corporate Bonds, and US High Quality bonds. How is Betterment’s Broad Impact portfolio constructed? In 2017, we launched our original SRI portfolio offering, which we’ve been steadily improving over the years. In 2020, we released two additional Impact portfolios and improved our original SRI portfolio, the improved iteration now called our “Broad Impact” portfolio to distinguish it from the new specific focus options, Climate Impact and Social Impact, and the legacy SRI portfolio for those investors who elected not to upgrade their historical version of the SRI portfolio (“legacy SRI portfolio”). For more information about the differences between our Broad Impact portfolio and the legacy SRI portfolio, please see our disclosures. As we’ve done since 2017, we continue to iterate on our SRI offerings, even if not all the fund products for an ideal portfolio are currently available. Figure 2 shows that we have increased the allocation to ESG focused funds each year since we launched our initial offering. Today all primary stock ETFs used in our Broad Impact, Climate Impact, and Social Impact portfolios have an ESG focus. 100% Stock Allocation in the Broad Impact Portfolio Over Time Figure 2. Calculations by Betterment. Portfolios from 2017-2019 represent Betterment’s original SRI portfolio. The 2020 portfolio represents a 100% stock allocation of Betterment’s Broad Impact portfolio. As additional SRI portfolios were introduced in 2020, Betterment’s SRI portfolio became known as the Broad Impact portfolio. As your portfolio allocation shifts to higher bond allocations, the percentage of your portfolio attributable to SRI funds decreases. Additionally, a 100% stock allocation of the Broad Impact portfolio in a taxable goal with tax loss harvesting enabled may not be comprised of all SRI funds because of the lack of suitable secondary and tertiary SRI tickers in the developed and emerging market stock asset classes. Betterment has built a Broad Impact portfolio, which focuses on ETFs that rate highly on a scale that considers all three ESG pillars, and includes an allocation to an engagement-based SRI ETF. Broad ESG investing solutions are currently the most liquid, highlighting their popularity amongst investors. Due to this, we will first examine how we created Betterment’s Broad Impact portfolio. In order to maintain geographic and asset class diversification and to meet our requirements for lower cost and higher liquidity in all SRI portfolios, we continue to allocate to some funds that do not have SRI mandates, particularly in bond asset classes. How does the Broad Impact portfolio compare to Betterment’s Core portfolio? Based on the primary ticker holdings, the following are the main differences between Betterment’s Broad Impact portfolio and Core portfolio: Replacement of market cap-based US stock exposure and value style US stock exposure in the Core portfolio, with SRI-focused US stock market funds, ESGU and VOTE, in the Broad Impact portfolio. Replacement of market cap-based developed market stock fund exposure in the Core portfolio, with SRI-focused emerging market stock fund, ESGD, in the Broad Impact portfolio. Replacement of market cap-based emerging market stock fund exposure in the Core portfolio, with SRI-focused emerging market stock fund, ESGE, in the Broad Impact portfolio. Replacement of market cap-based US high quality bond fund exposure in the Core portfolio, with SRI-focused US high quality bond funds, EAGG and SUSC, in the Broad Impact portfolio. ESGU, ESGV, SUSA, ESGD, ESGE, SUSC, and EAGG each track a benchmark index that screens out companies involved in specific activities and selectively includes companies that score relatively highly across a broad set of ESG metrics. ESGU, ESGD, ESGE, SUSC, and EAGG exclude tobacco companies, thermal coal companies, oil sands companies, certain weapons companies (such as those producing landmines and bioweapons), and companies undergoing severe business controversies. The benchmark index for ESGV explicitly filters out companies involved in adult entertainment, alcohol and tobacco, weapons, fossil fuels, gambling, and nuclear power. SUSA benchmark index screens out tobacco companies and companies that have run into recent ESG controversies. VOTE tracks a benchmark index that invests in 500 of the largest companies in the U.S. weighted according to their size, or market capitalization. This is different from the other indexes tracked by SRI funds in the Broad Impact portfolio, because the index does not take into account a company’s ESG factors when weighting different companies. Rather than invest more in good companies and less in bad companies, VOTE invests in the broader market and focuses on improving these companies’ social and environmental impact through shareholder engagement. Some of our allocations to bonds continue to be expressed using non-SRI focused ETFs since either the corresponding SRI alternatives do not exist or may lack sufficient liquidity. These non-SRI funds continue to be part of the portfolios for diversification purposes. As of September 2022, the Broad Impact portfolio’s asset weighted expense ratio, while relatively low-cost, has a range of 0.12-0.18%. This is dependent on the risk level (% allocation to stocks vs bonds) that you are invested in. The Broad Impact portfolio’s asset weighted expense ratio is higher than the Betterment Core portfolio strategy which has a range of 0.05-0.13%. SRI portfolios are also able to support our core tax products, Tax-loss Harvesting+ (TLH) and Tax-coordinated portfolios (TCP). In the Broad Impact portfolio, because of limited fund availability in the developed and emerging market SRI spaces, we use non-SRI market cap-based funds, like VWO, SPEM, VEA, and IEFA as secondary and tertiary funds for ESGE and ESGD when TLH is enabled. How socially responsible is the Broad Impact portfolio? As mentioned earlier, we first use the ESG data and analytics from MSCI to quantify how SRI-oriented our portfolios are. For each company that they cover, MSCI calculates a large number of ESG metrics across multiple environmental (E), social (S), and governance (G) pillars and themes (recall Table 1 above). All these metrics are first aggregated at the company level to calculate individual company scores. At the fund level, an overall MSCI ESG Quality score is calculated based on an aggregation of the relevant company scores. As defined by MSCI, this fund level ESG Quality score reflects “the ability of the underlying holdings to manage key medium- to long-term risks and opportunities arising from environmental, social, and governance factors”. These fund scores can be better understood given the MSCI ESG Quality Score scale shown below. See MSCI's ESG Fund Ratings for more detail. Table 2. The MSCI ESG Quality Score Scale The ESG Quality Score measures the ability of underlying holdings to manage key medium- to long-term risks and opportunities arising from environmental, social, and governance factors. Fund ESG Letter Rating Leader/ Laggard Fund ESG Quality Score (0-10 score) AAA Leader - Funds that invest in companies leading its industry in managing the most significant ESG risks and opportunities 8.6-10.0 AA 7.1-8.6 A Average- Funds that invest in companies with a mixed or unexceptional track record of managing the most significant ESG risks and opportunities relative to industry peers 5.7-7.1 BBB 4.3-5.7 BB 2.9-4.3 B Laggard- Funds that invest in companies lagging its industry based on its high exposure and failure to manage significant ESG risks 1.4-2.9 CCC 0.0-1.4 Source: MSCI *Appearance of overlap in the score ranges is due to rounding imprecisions. The 0-to-10 scale is divided into seven equal parts, each corresponding to a letter rating. Based on data from MSCI, which the organization has made publicly available for funds to drive greater ESG transparency, and sourced by fund courtesy of etf.com, Betterment’s 100% stock Broad Impact portfolio has a weighted MSCI ESG Quality score that is approximately 19% greater than Betterment’s 100% stock Core portfolio. MSCI ESG Quality Scores U.S. Stocks Betterment Core Portfolio: 8.2 Betterment Broad Impact Portfolio: 9.3 Emerging Markets Stocks Betterment Core Portfolio: 5.2 Betterment Broad Impact Portfolio: 8.6 Developed Markets Stocks Betterment Core Portfolio: 8.7 Betterment Broad Impact Portfolio: 9.7 US High Quality Bonds Betterment Core Portfolio: 6.6 Betterment Broad Impact Portfolio: 9.5 Sources: MSCI ESG Quality Scores courtesy of etf.com, values accurate as of September 30, 2022 and are subject to change. In order to present the most broadly applicable comparison, scores are with respect to each portfolio’s primary tickers exposure, and exclude any secondary or tertiary tickers that may be purchased in connection with tax loss harvesting. Another way we can measure how socially responsible a fund is by monitoring their shareholder engagement with companies on environmental, social and governance issues. Engagement-based socially responsible ETFs use shareholder proposals and proxy voting strategies to advocate for ESG change. We can review the votes of particular shareholder campaigns and evaluate whether those campaigns are successful. That review however does not capture the impact that the presence of engagement-based socially responsible ETFs may have on corporate behavior simply by existing in the market. Engagement-based socially responsible ETFs have expressive value in that they allow investors to signal their interest in ESG issues to companies and the market more broadly. These aspects of sustainable investing are more challenging to measure in a catch-all metric, however that does not diminish their importance. A Note On ESG Risks And Opportunities An ESG risk captures the negative externalities that a company in a given industry generates that may become unanticipated costs for that company in the medium- to long-term. An ESG opportunity for a given industry is considered to be material if companies will capitalize over a medium- to long-term time horizon. See MSCI ESG Ratings Methodology (June 2022 ) for more detail. For a company to score well on a key ESG issue (see Table 1 above), both the exposure to and management of ESG risks are taken into account. The extent to which an ESG risk exposure is managed needs to be commensurate with the level of the exposure. If a company has high exposure to an ESG risk, it must also have strong ESG risk management in order to score well on the relevant ESG key issue. A company that has limited exposure to the same ESG risk, only needs to have moderate risk management practices in order to score as highly. The converse is true as well. If a company that is highly exposed to an ESG risk also has poor risk management, it will score more poorly in terms of ESG quality than a company with the same risk management practices, but lower risk exposure. For example, water stress is a key ESG issue. Electric utility companies are highly dependent on water with each company more or less exposed depending on the location of its plants. Plants located in the desert are highly exposed to water stress risk while those located in areas with more plentiful water supplies present lower risk. If a company is operating in a location where water is scarce, it needs to take much more extensive measures to manage this risk than a company that has access to abundant water supply. Should we expect any difference in an SRI portfolio’s performance? One might expect that a socially responsible portfolio could lead to lower returns in the long term compared to another, similar portfolio. The notion behind this reasoning is that somehow there is a premium to be paid for investing based on your social ideals and values. A white paper written in partnership between Rockefeller Asset Management and NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, studied 1000+ research papers published from 2015-2020 which analyzed the relationship between ESG investing and performance. The primary takeaway from this research was that they found “positive correlations between ESG performance and operational efficiencies, stock performance, and lower cost of capital.” When ESG factors are considered, there seems to be improved performance potential over longer time periods and potential to also provide downside protection during periods of crisis. Dividend Yields Could Be Lower Dividend yields calculated over the past year (ending September 30, 2022) indicate that income returns coming from Broad Impact portfolios have been lower than those of Core portfolios. Oil and gas companies like BP, Chevron, and Exxon, for example, currently have relatively high dividend yields and excluding them from a given portfolio can cause its income return to be lower. Of course, future dividend yields are random variables and past data may not provide accurate forecasts. Nevertheless, lower dividend yields can be a factor in driving total returns for SRI portfolios to be lower than those of Core portfolios. Comparison of Dividend Yields Source: Bloomberg, Calculations by Betterment for one year period ending September 30, 2022. Dividend yields for each portfolio are calculated using the dividend yields of the primary ETFs used for taxable allocations of Betterment’s portfolios as of September 2022. How is Betterment’s Climate Impact portfolio constructed? Betterment offers a Climate Impact portfolio for investors that want to invest in an SRI strategy more focused on being climate-conscious rather than focusing on all ESG dimensions equally. The Climate Impact portfolio was designed to give investors exposure to climate-conscious investments, without sacrificing proper diversification and balanced cost. Fund selection for this portfolio follows the same guidelines established for the Broad Impact portfolio, as we seek to incorporate broad based climate-focused ETFs with sufficient liquidity relative to their size in the portfolio. How does the Climate Impact portfolio more positively affect climate change? The Climate Impact portfolio is allocated to iShares MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF (CRBN), an ETF which seeks to track the global stock market, but with a bias towards companies with a lower carbon footprint. By investing in CRBN, investors are actively supporting companies with a lower carbon footprint, because CRBN overweights these stocks relative to their high-carbon emitting peers. One way we can measure the carbon impact a fund has is by looking at its weighted average carbon intensity, which measures the weighted average of tons of CO2 emissions per million dollars in sales, based on the fund's underlying holdings. Based on weighted average carbon intensity data from MSCI (courtesy of etf.com), Betterment’s 100% stock Climate Impact portfolio has carbon emissions per unit sales more than 50% lower than Betterment’s 100% stock Core portfolio as of September 30, 2022. International Developed and Emerging Markets stocks in the Climate Impact portfolio are also allocated to fossil fuel reserve free funds, EFAX and EEMX. U.S. stocks in the Climate Impact portfolio are allocated to a fossil fuel reserve free fund, SPYX, and an engagement-based ESG fund, VOTE. Rather than ranking and weighting funds based on a certain climate metric like CRBN, fossil fuel reserve free funds instead exclude companies that own fossil fuel reserves, defined as crude oil, natural gas, and thermal coal. By investing in fossil fuel reserve free funds investors are actively divesting from companies with some of the most negative impact on climate change, including oil producers, refineries, and coal miners such as Chevron, ExxonMobile, BP, and Peabody Energy. Another way that the Climate Impact portfolio promotes a positive environmental impact is by investing in bonds that fund green projects. The Climate Impact portfolio invests in iShares Global Green Bond ETF (BGRN), which tracks the global market of investment-grade bonds linked to environmentally beneficial projects, as determined by MSCI. These bonds are called “green bonds”. The green bonds held by BGRN fund projects in a number of environmental categories defined by MSCI including alternative energy, energy efficiency, pollution prevention and control, sustainable water, green building, and climate adaptation. How does the Climate Impact portfolio compare to Betterment’s Core portfolio? When compared to the Betterment Core portfolio allocation, there are three main changes. First, in both taxable and tax-deferred portfolios,our Core portfolio’s Total Stock exposure is replaced with an allocation to a broad global low-carbon stock ETF (CRBN) in the Climate Impact portfolio. Currently, there are not any viable alternative tickers for the global low-carbon stock asset class so this component of the portfolio cannot be tax-loss harvested. Second, we allocate Core portfolio’s International Stock exposure, and a portion of our Core portfolio’s US Total Stock Market exposure to three broad region-specific stock ETFs that screen out companies that hold fossil-fuel reserves in the Climate Impact portfolio. US Total Stock Market exposure is replaced with an allocation to SPYX, International Developed Stock Market exposure is replaced by EFAX, and Emerging Markets Stock Market exposure is replaced by EEMX. In the Climate Impact portfolio, SPYX, EFAX, and EEMX will use ESG secondary tickers ESGU, ESGD, and ESGE respectively for tax loss harvesting. Third, we also allocate a portion of our Core portfolio’s US Total Stock Market exposure to a fund focused on engaging with companies to improve their corporate decision-making on sustainability and social issues, VOTE. Currently, there are not any comparable alternative tickers for VOTE so this component of the portfolio will not be tax-loss harvested. Lastly, for both taxable and tax-deferred portfolios we replace both our Core portfolio’s US High Quality Bond and International Developed Market Bond exposure with an allocation to a global green bond ETF (BGRN) in the Climate Impact portfolio. Some of our allocations to bonds continue to be expressed using non-climate focused ETFs since either the corresponding alternatives do not exist or may lack sufficient liquidity. These non-climate-conscious funds continue to be part of the portfolios for diversification purposes. As of September 2022, the Climate Impact portfolio’s asset weighted expense ratio, while relatively low-cost, has a range of 0.13-0.20%. This is dependent on the risk level (% allocation to stocks vs bonds) that you are invested in. The Climate Impact portfolio’s asset weighted expense ratio is higher than the Betterment Core portfolio strategy which has a range of 0.05-0.13%. How do performance expectations compare to the Core portfolio? When some first consider ESG investing, they assume that they must pay a heavy premium in order to have their investments aligned with their values. However, as previously noted above, the data suggests that the performance between sustainable funds versus traditional funds is not significantly different, although there can be differences over shorter periods. How is Betterment’s Social Impact portfolio constructed? Betterment offers a Social Impact portfolio for investors that want to invest in a strategy more focused on the social pillar of ESG investing (the S in ESG). The Social Impact portfolio was designed to give investors exposure to investments which promote social equity, without sacrificing proper diversification and balanced cost. Fund selection for this portfolio follows the same guidelines established for the Broad Impact portfolio discussed above, as we seek to incorporate broad based ETFs that focus on social equity with sufficient liquidity relative to their size in the portfolio. How does the Social Impact portfolio promote social equity? The Social Impact portfolio shares many of the same holdings as Betterment’s Broad Impact portfolio, which means the portfolio holds funds which rank strongly with respect to broad ESG factors. The Social Impact portfolio looks to further promote the social pillar of ESG investing, by also allocating to two ETFs that specifically focus on diversity and inclusion -- Impact Shares NAACP Minority Empowerment ETF (NACP) and SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF (SHE). NACP is a US stock ETF offered by Impact Shares that tracks the Morningstar Minority Empowerment Index. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has developed a methodology for scoring companies based on a number of minority empowerment criteria. These scores are used to create the Morningstar Minority Empowerment Index, an index which seeks to maximize the minority empowerment score while maintaining market-like risk and strong diversification. The end result is an index which provides greater exposure to US companies with strong diversity policies that empower employees irrespective of race or nationality. By investing in NACP, investors are allocating more of their money to companies with a track record of social equity as defined by the NAACP. SHE is a US Stock ETF that allows investors to invest in more female-led companies compared to the broader market. In order to achieve this objective, companies are ranked within each sector according to their ratio of women in senior leadership positions. Only companies that rank highly within each sector are eligible for inclusion in the fund. By investing in SHE, investors are allocating more of their money to companies that have demonstrated greater gender diversity within senior leadership than other firms in their sector. For more information about these social impact ETFs, including any associated risks, please see our disclosures. How does the Social Impact portfolio compare to Betterment’s Core portfolio? The Social Impact portfolio builds off of the ESG exposure from funds used in the Broad Impact portfolio and makes the following additional changes. First, we replace a portion of our US Total Stock Market exposure with an allocation to a US Stock ETF, NACP, which provides exposure to US companies with strong racial and ethnic diversity policies in place. Second, another portion of our US Total Stock Market exposure is allocated to a US Stock ETF, SHE, which provides exposure to companies with a relatively high proportion of women in high-level positions. As with the Broad Impact and Climate Impact portfolios, we allocate the remainder of our Core portfolio’s US Total Stock Market exposure to a fund focused on engaging with companies to improve their corporate decision-making on sustainability and social issues, VOTE. Currently, there are not any viable alternative tickers for NACP, SHE, or VOTE, so these components of the portfolio will not be tax-loss harvested. As of September 2022, the Social Impact portfolio’s asset weighted expense ratio, while relatively low-cost, has a range of 0.13-0.20%. This is dependent on the risk level (% allocation to stocks vs bonds) that you are invested in. The Social Impact portfolio’s asset weighted expense ratio is higher than the Betterment Core portfolio strategy which has a range of 0.05-0.13%. How do performance expectations compare to the Core portfolio? When some first consider ESG investing, they assume that they must pay a heavy premium in order to have their investments aligned with their values. However, as previously noted above, the data suggests that the performance between sustainable funds versus traditional funds is not significantly different, although there can be differences over shorter periods. Conclusion Despite the various limitations that all SRI implementations face today, Betterment will continue to support its customers in further aligning their values to their investments. Betterment may add additional socially responsible funds to the SRI portfolios and replace other ETFs as more socially responsible products become available. How does the legacy SRI portfolio compare to the current SRI portfolios? There are certain differences between the legacy SRI portfolio and the current SRI portfolios. If you invested in the legacy SRI portfolio prior to October 2020 and chose not to update to one of the SRI portfolios, your legacy SRI portfolio does not include the above described enhancements to the Broad Impact portfolio. The legacy SRI portfolio may have different portfolio weights, meaning as we introduce new asset classes and adjust the percentage any one particular asset class contributes to a current SRI portfolio, the percentage an asset class contributes to the legacy SRI portfolio will deviate from the makeup of the current SRI portfolios and Betterment Core portfolio. The legacy SRI portfolio may also have different funds, ETFs, as compared to both the current versions of the SRI portfolios and the Betterment Core portfolio. Lastly, the legacy SRI portfolio may also have higher exposure to broad market ETFs that do not currently use social responsibility screens or engagement based tools and retain exposure to companies and industries based on previous socially responsible benchmark measures that have since been changed. Future updates to the Broad, Climate, and Social Impact portfolios will not be reflected in the legacy SRI portfolio.
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Investing in Your 20s: 4 Major Financial Questions Answered
When you're in your 20s, you may be starting to invest or you might have some existing assets you ...Investing in Your 20s: 4 Major Financial Questions Answered When you're in your 20s, you may be starting to invest or you might have some existing assets you need to take better care of. Pay attention to these major issues. For most of us, our 20s is the first decade of life where investing might become a priority. You may have just graduated college, and having landed your first few full-time jobs, you’re starting to get serious about putting your money to work. More likely than not, you’re motivated and eager to start forging your financial future. Unfortunately, eagerness alone isn’t enough to be a successful investor. Once you make the decision to start investing, and you’ve done a bit of research, dozens of new questions emerge. Questions like, “Should I invest or pay down debt?” or “What should I do to start a nest egg?” In this article, we’ll cover the top four questions we hear from investors in their twenties that we believe are important questions to be asking—and answering. “Should I invest aggressively just because I’m young?” “Should I pay down my debts or start investing?” “Should I contribute to a Roth or Traditional retirement account?” “How long should it take to see results?” Let’s explore these to help you develop a clearer path through your 20s. “Should I invest aggressively just because I’m young?” Young investors often hear that they should invest aggressively because they “have time on their side.” That usually means investing in a high percentage of stocks and a small percentage of bonds or cash. While the logic is sound, it’s really only half of the story. And the half that is missing is the most important part: the foundation of your finances. The portion of your money that is for long-term goals, such as retirement, should most likely be invested aggressively. But in your twenties you have other financial goals besides just retirement. Let’s look at some common goals that should not have aggressive, high risk investments just because you’re young. A safety net. It’s extremely important to build up an emergency fund that covers 3-6 months of your expenses. We usually recommend your safety net should be kept in a lower risk option, like a high yield savings account or low risk investment account. Wedding costs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of a first marriage for men is 29, and for women, it’s 27. You don’t want to have to delay matrimony just because the stock market took a dip, so money set aside for these goals should also probably be invested conservatively. A home down payment. The median age for purchasing a first home is age 33, according to the the National Association of Realtors. That means most people should start saving for that house in their twenties. When saving for a relatively short-term goal—especially one as important as your first home—it likely doesn’t make sense to invest very aggressively. So how should you invest for these shorter-term goals? If you plan on keeping your savings in cash, make sure your money is working for you. Consider using a cash account like Cash Reserve, which could earn a higher rate than traditional savings accounts. If you want to invest your money, you should separate your savings into different buckets for each goal, and invest each bucket according to its time horizon. An example looks like this. The above graph is Betterment’s recommendation for how stock-to-bond allocations should change over time for a major purchase goal. And don’t forget to adjust your risk as your goal gets closer—or if you use Betterment, we’ll adjust your risk automatically with the exception of our BlackRock Target Income portfolio. “Should I pay down my debts or start investing?” The right risk level for your investments depends not just on your age, but on the purpose of that particular bucket of money. But should you even be investing in the first place? Or, would it be better to focus on paying down debt? In some cases, paying down debt should be prioritized over investing, but that’s not always the case. Here’s one example: “Should I pay down a 4.5% mortgage or contribute to my 401(k) to get a 100% employer match?” Mathematically, the employer match is usually the right move. The return on a 100% employer match is usually better than saving 4.5% by paying extra on your mortgage if you’re planning to pay the same amount for either option. It comes down to what is the most optimal use of your next dollar. We've discussed the topic in more detail previously, but the quick summary is that, when deciding to pay off debt or invest, use this prioritized framework: Always make your minimum debt payments on time. Maximise the match in your employer-sponsored retirement plan. Pay off high-cost debt. Build your safety net. Save for retirement. Save for your other goals (home purchase, kid’s college). “Should I contribute to a Roth or Traditional retirement account?” Speaking of employer matches in your retirement account, which type of retirement account is best for you? Should you choose a Roth retirement account (e.g. Roth 401(k), Roth IRA) in your twenties? Or should you use a traditional account? As a quick refresher, here’s how Roth and traditional retirement accounts generally work: Traditional: Contributions to these accounts are usually pre-tax. In exchange for this upfront tax break, you usually must pay taxes on all future withdrawals. Roth: Contributions to these accounts are generally after-tax. Instead of getting a tax break today, all of the future earnings and qualified withdrawals will be tax-free. So you can’t avoid paying taxes, but at least you can choose when you pay them. Either now when you make the contribution, or in the future when you make the withdrawal. As a general rule: If your current tax bracket is higher than your expected tax bracket in retirement, you should choose the Traditional option. If your current tax bracket is the same or lower than your expected tax bracket in retirement, you should choose the Roth option. The good news is that Betterment’s retirement planning tool can do this all for you and recommend which is likely best for your situation. We estimate your current and future tax bracket, and even factor in additional factors like employer matches, fees and even your spouse’s accounts, if applicable. “How long should it take to see investing results?” Humans are wired to seek immediate gratification. We want to see results and we want them fast. The investments we choose are no different. We want to see our money grow, even double or triple as fast as possible! We are always taught of the magic of compound interest, and how if you save $x amount over time, you’ll have so much money by the time you retire. That is great for initial motivation, but it’s important to understand that most of that growth happens later in life. In fact very little growth occurs while you are just starting. The graph below shows what happens over 30 years if you save $250/month in today’s dollars and earn a 7% rate of return. By the end you’ll have over $372,000! But it’s not until year 5 that you would earn more money than you contributed that year. And it would take 18 years for the total earnings in your account to be larger than your total contributions. How Compounding Works: Contributions vs. Future Earnings The figure shows a hypothetical example of compounding, based on a $3,000 annual contribution over 30 years with an assumed growth rate of 7%, compounded each year. Performance is provided for illustrative purposes, and performance is not attributable to any actual Betterment portfolio nor does it reflect any specific Betterment performance. As such, it is not net of any management fees. Content is meant for educational purposes on the power of compound interest over time, and not intended to be taken as advice or a recommendation for any specific investment product or strategy. The point is it can take time to see the fruits of your investing labor. That’s entirely normal. But don’t let that discourage you. Some things you can do early on to help are to make your saving automatic and reduce your fees. Both of these things will help you save more and make your money work harder. Use Your 20s To Your Advantage Your 20s are an important time in your financial life. It is the decade where you can build a strong foundation for decades to come. Whether that’s choosing the proper risk level for your goals, deciding to pay down debt or invest, or selecting the right retirement accounts. Making the right decisions now can save you the headache of having to correct these things later. Lastly, remember to stay the course. It can take time to see the type of growth you want in your account.
Investing in Your 30s: 3 Goals You Should Set Today
It’s never too early or too late to start investing for a better future. Here’s what you need to ...Investing in Your 30s: 3 Goals You Should Set Today It’s never too early or too late to start investing for a better future. Here’s what you need to know about investing in your 30s. In your 30s, your finances get real. Your income may have increased significantly since your first job. You might have investments, stock compensation, or a small business. You may be using or have access to different kinds of financial accounts (e.g. 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, HSA, 529, UTMA). In this decade of your life, chances are you’ll get married, and even start a family. Even if you’ve taken this complexity in stride, it’s good to take a step back to review where you are and where you want to go. This review of your plan (or reminder to create a plan) is essential to setting up your financial situation for future decades of financial success. Don’t Delay Creating A Plan: Three Goals For Your 30s As always, the best thing to do is start with your financial goals. Keep in mind that goals change through time, and this review is an important step to make updates based on where you are now. If you don’t have any goals yet, or need some guidance on which investing objectives might be important for you, here are three to consider. Emergency Fund Sometimes your plan doesn’t go as planned, and having an adequate emergency fund can help ensure those hiccups don’t affect the rest of your goals. An emergency fund (at Betterment, we refer to it as a "Safety Net" goal) should contain enough money to cover your basic expenses for a minimum of three to six months. You may need more than that estimate depending on your career, which may or may not be one in which finding new work happens quickly. Also, depending on how much risk you want to take with these funds, you may need a buffer on top of that amount. Retirement Most people don’t want to work forever. Even if you enjoy your work, you’ll likely work less as you age, presumably reducing your income. To maintain your standard of living, or spend more on travel, hobbies or grandkids, you’ll need to spend from savings. Saving for your retirement early in your career—especially in your 30s–is essential. Thanks to medical improvements and healthier living, we are living longer in retirement, which means we need to save even more. Luckily, you have a secret weapon—compounding—but you have to use it. Compounding can be simply understood as “interest earning interest,”a snowball effect that can build your account balance more quickly over time. The earlier you start saving, the more time you have, and the more compounding can work for you. In your goal review, you’ll want to make sure you are on track to retire according to your plan, and make savings adjustments if not. You’ll also want to make sure you are using the best retirement accounts for your current financial situation, such as your workplace retirement plan, an IRA, or a Roth IRA. Your household income, tax rate, future tax rate and availability of accounts for you and your spouse will determine what is best for you. As you consider your goals, you may want to check out Betterment's retirement planning tools, which helps answer all of these questions. Also, if you’ve changed jobs, make sure you are not leaving your retirement savings behind, especially if it has high fees. Often, consolidating your old 401(k)s and IRAs into one account can make it easier to manage, and might even reduce your costs. You can consolidate retirement accounts tax-free with a rollover. If you have questions about your plan or the results using our tools, consider getting help from an expert through our Advice Packages. Major Purchases A wedding, a house, a big trip, or college for your kids. Each of these goals has a different amount needed, and a different time horizon. Our goal-based savings advice can help you figure out how to invest and how much to save each month to achieve them. Take the chance in your goal review to decide which of these goals is most important to you, and make sure you set them up as goals in your Betterment account. Our goal features allow you to see, track, and manage each goal, even if the savings aren’t at Betterment.
Investing in Your 40s: 4 Financial Goals You Should Prioritize at Mid-Life
In your 40s, your priorities and investing goals become clearer than ever; it’s your mid-life ...Investing in Your 40s: 4 Financial Goals You Should Prioritize at Mid-Life In your 40s, your priorities and investing goals become clearer than ever; it’s your mid-life opportunity to get your goals on track. It’s easy to put off planning for the future when the present is so demanding. Unlike in your 20s and 30s when your retirement seemed like a distant event, your 40s are when your financial responsibilities become palpable—now and for retirement. You may be earning more income than ever, so you can benefit far more from planning your taxes carefully. Perhaps you have increased expenses as a result of homeownership. If you have kids, now may also be the time that you’re thinking about or preparing to pay for college tuition. When all of these elements of your financial life converge, they require some thoughtful planning and strategic investing. Consider the following roadmap to planning your investments wisely during these rewarding years of your life. Here are four ways to think about goals you might prepare for. Preparing for Your Next Phase: Four Goals for Your 40s You may have already made a plan for the future. If so, now is a good time to review it and adjust course if necessary. If you haven’t yet made a plan, it’s not too late to get started. Set aside some time to think about your situation and long-term goals. If you’re married or in a relationship, you likely may need to include your spouse or partner in identifying your goals. Consider the facts: How much are you making? How much do you spend? Will your spending needs be changing in the near future? (Perhaps you're paying for day care right now but can plan to redirect that amount towards savings in a few years instead.) How much are you setting aside for savings, investments, and retirement? What will you need in the next five, 10, or 20 years? Work these factors into your short- and long-term financial goals. Pay off high-interest debt The average credit card interest rate is more than 20%, so paying off any high-interest credit card debt can boost your financial security more than almost any other financial move you make related to savings or investing. Student loans may also be a high-cost form of debt, especially if you borrowed money when rates were higher. If you have a high-interest-rate student loan (say more than 5%), or if you have multiple loans that you’d like to consolidate, you may want to consider refinancing your student debt. These days, lenders offer many options to refinance higher-rate student loans. There’s one form of debt that you don’t necessarily need to repay early, however: your mortgage. This is because mortgage rates are lower than most credit cards and may offer you a tax break. If you itemize deductions, you may be able to subtract mortgage interest from your taxable income. Many people file using the standard deduction, however, so check with your tax professional about what deductions may apply to your situation come tax time. Check that you’re saving enough for retirement If you’ve had several jobs—which means you might have several retirement or 401(k) plans—now is a good time to organize and check how all of your investments have performed. Betterment can help you accomplish this by allowing you to connect and review your outside accounts. Connecting external accounts allows you to see your wealth in one place and align different accounts to your financial goals. Connecting your accounts in Betterment can also help you see higher investment management fees you might be paying, grab opportunities to invest idle cash, and determine how your portfolios are allocated when we are able to pull that data from other institutions. There could also be several potential benefits of consolidating your various retirement accounts into low-fee IRA accounts at Betterment. Because it’s much easier to get on track in your 40s than in your 50s since you have more time to invest, you should also check in on the advice personalized for you in a Betterment retirement goal. Creating a Retirement goal at Betterment allows you to build a customized retirement plan to help you understand how much you’ll need to save for retirement based on when and where you plan on retiring. The plan also considers current and future income—including Social Security income—as well as your 401(k) accounts and other savings. Your plan updates regularly, and when you connect all of your outside accounts, it provides even more personalized retirement guidance. Optimize your taxes In your 40s, you’re likely to be earning more than earlier in your career–which may put you in a higher tax bracket. Reviewing your tax situation can help make sure you are keeping as much of your hard-earned income as you can. Determine if you should be investing in a Roth (after-tax contribution) or traditional (pre-tax contribution) employer plan option, or an IRA. The optimal choice usually depends on your current income versus your expected income in retirement. If your income is higher now than you expect it to be in retirement, it’s generally better to use a traditional 401(k) and take the tax deduction. If your income is similar or less than what you expect in retirement, you should consider choosing a Roth if available. Those without employer plans can generally take traditional IRA deductions no matter what their taxable income is (as long as your spouse doesn’t have one, either). You’ll also want to make sure you take advantage of all the tax credits and deductions that may be available to you. You may also want to check to see whether your company offers tax-free transportation benefits—including subway or bus passes or commuter parking. The value of these benefits isn’t included in your taxable income, so you can save money. You can also save money on a pre-tax basis by contributing to a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA). Health Saving Accounts (HSA) Health savings accounts (HSAs) are like personal savings accounts, but the money in them is used to pay for health care expenses. Only you—not your employer or insurance company—own and control the money in your HSA. The money you deposit into the account is not taxed. To be eligible to open an HSA, you must have a high-deductible insurance plan. Your 401(k) may be tied to your employer, however your HSA is not. As long as your health plan meets the deductible requirement and permits you to open an HSA, and you’re not receiving Medicare benefits or claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, you can open one with various HSA “administrators” or “custodians” such as banks, credit unions, insurance companies, and other financial institutions. You can withdraw the funds tax-free at any time for qualified medical expenses. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a special account that can be used to save for certain out-of-pocket health care costs. You don’t pay taxes on this money—this is a tax-favored program that some employers offer to their employees. If you have an FSA, remember that in most cases your spending allowance does not carry over from year-to-year. It’s important to find out whether your employer offers a grace period into the next year (typically through mid-March) to spend down your account. Before you waste your tax-free savings on eyeglasses, check what you can buy with FSA money—with and without a prescription. Any unused funds will be forfeited, so it’s a good idea to use up what you can. If you find yourself with more than you can spend, then you might want to adjust how much you’re allocating to your FSA. If you have children, start saving for college—just don’t shortchange your retirement to do it If you have children, you may already be paying for their college tuition, or at least preparing to pay for it. It’s advisable to focus on your own financial security while also doing what you can to save for your kids’ college costs. So, first things first, make sure you’re saving enough for your own retirement. Then if you have money left over, think about tax-deferred college savings plans, such as 529 plans. A 529—named for the section of the tax code that allows for them—can be a great way to save for college because earnings are tax-free if used for qualified education expenses. Some states even allow you to deduct contributions from your state income tax, if you use your state’s plan. (While each state has its own plan, you can use any state’s plan, no matter where your child will go to college.) An alternative is to put money away in your own taxable savings accounts. Some investors prefer this method since it gives them more control over the money if things change, and may be more beneficial for financial aid. Your 40s are all about taking stock of how far you’ve come, re-adjusting your priorities, and getting ready for the next phase of life. By working on your financial goals now, you can gain peace of mind that allows you to concentrate on important things like family, friends, work, and the way you want to spend this rewarding decade of your life.
Investing in Your 50s: 4 Practical Tips for Retirement Planning
In your 50s, assess your retirement plan, lifestyle, earnings, and support for family. Practice ...Investing in Your 50s: 4 Practical Tips for Retirement Planning In your 50s, assess your retirement plan, lifestyle, earnings, and support for family. Practice goal-based investing to help meet your objectives. As you enter your 50s, you may feel like your long-term goals are coming within reach, and it’s up to you to make sure those objectives are realized. Now is also a perfect time to see how your investments and retirement savings are shaping up. If you’ve cut back on savings to meet big expenses, such as home repairs and (if you have children) college tuition, you now have an opportunity to make up lost ground. You might also think about how you want to live after you retire. Will you relocate? Will you downsize or stay put? If you have children, how much are you willing to support them as they enter adulthood? These decisions all matter when deciding how to strategize your investments for this important decade of your life. Four Goals for Your 50s Your 50s can be a truly productive and efficient time for your investments. Focus on achieving these four key goals to make these years truly count in retirement. Goal 1: Assess Your Retirement Accounts If you’ve put retirement savings on the back burner, or just want to make a push for greater financial security—the good news is that you can make larger contributions toward employer retirement accounts (401(k), 403(b), etc.) at age 50 and over, thanks to the IRS rules on catch-up contributions. If you’re already contributing the maximum to your employer plans and still want to save more for retirement, consider opening a traditional or Roth IRA. These are individual retirement accounts that are subject to their own contribution limits, but also allow for a catch-up contribution at age 50 or older. You may also wish to simplify your investments by consolidating your retirement accounts with IRA rollovers. Doing so can help you get more organized, streamline recordkeeping and make it easier to implement an overall retirement strategy. Plus, by consolidating now, you can help avoid complications after age 72, when you’ll have to make Required Minimum Distributions from all the tax-deferred retirement accounts you own. Goal 2: Evaluate Your Lifestyle and Pre-Retirement Finances When you’re in your 50s, you may still be a ways from retirement, however you’ll want to consider how to support yourself when you do begin that stage of your life. If you’ve just begun calculating how much you’ll need to save for a comfortable retirement, consider the following tips and tools. Tips and Tools for Estimating Income Needs Make a rough estimate of how much you spend on housing, food, utilities, health care, clothing, and incidentals. Nowadays, tools such as Mint® and Prosper include budgeting features that can help you see these expenditures. Subtract what you can expect to receive from Social Security. You can estimate your benefit with this calculator. Subtract any defined pension plan benefits or other sources of income you expect to receive in retirement. Subtract what you can safely withdraw each year from your retirement savings. Consider robust retirement planning tools, which can help you understand how much you’ll need to save for a comfortable retirement based on current and future income from all sources, and even your location. If there’s a gap between your income needs and your anticipated retirement income, you may need to make adjustments in the form of cutting expenses, working more years before retiring, increasing the current amounts you’re investing for retirement, and re-evaluating your investment strategy. Think About Taxes Your income may peak in your 50s, which can also push you into higher tax brackets. This makes tax-saving strategies like these potentially more valuable than ever: Putting more into tax-advantaged investing vehicles like 401(k)s or traditional IRAs. Donating appreciated assets to charities. Implementing tax-efficient investment strategies within your investments, such as tax loss harvesting* and asset location. Betterment automates both of these strategies and offers features to customers with no additional management fee. Define Your Lifestyle Your 50s are a great time to think about your current and desired lifestyle. As you near retirement, you’ll want to continue doing the things you love to do, or perhaps be able to start doing more and build on those passions. Perhaps you know you’ll be traveling more frequently. If you are socially active and enjoy entertainment activities such as dining out and going to the theater, those interests likely won’t change. Instead, you’ll want to enjoy doing all the things you love to do, but with the peace of mind knowing that you won’t be infringing on your retirement reserves. Say you want to start a new business when you leave your job. You’re not alone; more than a third of new entrepreneurs starting businesses in 2021 were between the ages of 55 and 64 according to research by the Kauffman Foundation. To get ready, you’ll want to start building or leveraging your contacts, creating a business plan, and setting up a workspace. You may also wish to consider relocating during retirement. Living in a warmer part of the country or moving closer to family is certainly appealing. Downsizing to a smaller home or even an apartment could cut down on utilities, property taxes, and maintenance. You might need one car instead of two—or none at all—if you relocate to a neighborhood surrounded by amenities within walking distance. If you sell your primary home, you can take advantage of a break on capital gains —even if you don’t use the money to buy another one. If you’ve lived in the same house for at least two out of the last five years, you can exclude capital gains of up to $250,000 per individual and $500,000 per married couple from your income taxes, according to the IRS. Goal 3: Chart Your Pre-Retirement Investment Strategy After you’ve determined how much you’ll need for a comfortable retirement, now’s also a good time to begin thinking about how you’ll use the assets you’ve accumulated to generate income after you retire. If you have shorter-term financial objectives over the next two to five years—such as paying for your kids’ college tuition, or a major home repair—you’ll have to plan accordingly. For these milestones, consider goal-based investing, where each goal will have different exposure to market risk depending on the time allocated for reaching that goal. Goal-based investing matches your time horizon to your asset allocation, which means you take on an appropriate amount of risk for your respective goals. Investments for short-term goals may be better allocated to less volatile assets such as bonds, while longer-term goals have the ability to absorb greater risks but also achieve greater returns. When you misallocate, it can lead to saving too much or too little, missing out on returns with too conservative an allocation, or missing your goal if you take on too much risk. Setting long investment goals shouldn’t be taken lightly. This is a moment of self-evaluation. In order to invest for the future, you must cut back on spending your wealth now. That means tomorrow’s goals in retirement must outweigh the pleasures of today’s spending. If you’re a Betterment customer, it’s easy to get started with goal-based investing. Simply set up a goal with your desired time horizon and target balance and Betterment will recommend an investment approach tailored to this information. Goal 4: Set Clear Expectations with Children If you have children, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching your kids turn into motivated adults with passions to pursue. As a parent, you’ll naturally want to prepare them with everything you can to help them succeed in the world. You may be wrapping up paying for their college tuition, which is no easy feat given that these costs – even at public in-state universities – now average in the tens of thousands of dollars per year. As your kids move through college, take the time to have a serious discussion with them about what they plan to do after graduation. If graduate school is on the horizon, talk to them about how they’ll pay for it and how much help from you, if any, they can expect. Unlike undergraduate programs, graduate programs assess financial aid requirements by looking at only the student’s assets and incomes, not the parents’, so your finances won't be considered. You’ll also want to set expectations about other kinds of support—such as any help in paying for their health insurance premiums up to a certain age, or their mobile phone plan, or even whether toward major purchases like a home or car. It’s great to help out your children, but you’ll want to make sure you’re not jeopardizing your own security. Your 50s may demand a lot from you, but taking the time to properly assess your investments, personal financial situation, lifestyle, and, if applicable, your support for children, can be truly rewarding in your retirement years. By tackling these four goals now, you can help set yourself up to meet your current responsibilities and increase your chances of a more financially secure and comfortable life in the decades to come.