Making a last will and testament is an important part of your estate plan and there are different types of wills to choose from. A nuncupative will, meaning a will thatâs oral rather than written, may be an option in certain circumstances. While state will laws typically require that a will be written, signed and witnessed to be considered legal, there are scenarios in which an oral will could be upheld as valid. Understanding how a nuncupative will works, as well as the pros and cons, can help with shaping your will-making plans if you have yet to create one.
A financial professional can offer advice on investing, retirement planning, financial planning and various other areas of finance. Find a financial advisor today.
Nuncupative Will, Defined
A nuncupative will simply means a will that isnât written. Instead, itâs delivered verbally by the person who intends to make the will.
Nuncupative wills are sometimes called deathbed wills since theyâre often created in end-of-life situations where a person is too ill or injured to physically draft a will. The person making the will, known as a testator, expresses wishes about the distribution of property and other assets to witnesses.
How Does an Oral Will Work?
Ordinarily, when creating a will youâd draft a written document identifying yourself as the will maker and spelling out how you want your assets to be distributed after you pass away. You could also use a will to name legal guardians for minor children if necessary and name an executor for your estate.
An oral will sidesteps all that and simply involves the person making the will expressing his or her wishes verbally to witnesses. There would be no written document unless one of the witnesses or someone else who is present chooses to copy down whatâs being said. The person making the will would have nothing to sign and neither would the witnesses.
Thereâs a reason oral wills are no longer used in most states: Without a written document thatâs been signed by the person making the will and properly witnessed, it can be very difficult to prove the will makerâs intentions about how assets should be distributed or who should be beneficiaries.
Are Nuncupative Wills Valid?
This type of will is no longer considered valid in most states. Instead, youâll need to draft a written will that follows your stateâs will-making guidelines. For example, most states require that the person making a will be at least 18 and of sound mind. The will also has to be witnessed by the required number of people who donât have a direct interest in the willâs contents. Depending on where you live, you may or may not need to have your will notarized.
There are a handful of states that still allow oral or verbal wills, however. But theyâre only considered valid under certain circumstances.
In North Carolina, for example, oral wills are only recognized if:
The person making the will believes death is imminent
The witnesses are asked to testify to the will
Both witnesses are present with the testator when the will is dictated
The testator states that what he or she is saying is intended to be a will
An oral statement is made to at least two competent witnesses
The testator then passes away
Even if those conditions are met, the heirs to the will would still have to bring a legal action to have it admitted to probate court. The witnesses would have to testify to what was said and even then, North Carolina still doesnât allow for the transfer of real estate through an oral will.
In New York, the guidelines are even narrower. New York State only allows nuncupative wills to be recognized as legal and valid when made by a member of the armed services during a time of war or armed conflict. The intentions of the person making the will has to be stated in front of two witnesses. State law automatically invalidates them one year after the person leaves military service if they donât pass away at the time the will was made.
How to Prepare a Will
Having a written will in place can help your loved ones avoid problematic scenarios about how to divide your property after you pass away. If you donât have a will in place yet, you risk dying intestate. There are a couple of ways you can create one.
The first is using an online will-making software. These programs can guide you through the will-making process and theyâre designed to be easy enough for anyone to use, even if youâre not an attorney. If you have a fairly simple estate then using an online will-making software could help you create a will at a reasonable cost.
On the other hand, if you have a more complex estate then you may want to get help with making a will from an estate planning attorney. An attorney can help ensure that your will is valid and that youâre distributing assets the way you want to without running into any legal snags.
Generally, when making a will you should be prepared to:
Name an executor for your estate
Name a guardian for children if necessary
Specify who or which organizations you want to inherit your assets
When making a will, itâs important to remember that some assets canât be included. For example, if you have any assets that already have a named beneficiary, such as a 401(k), individual retirement account or life insurance policy, those would go to the person youâve named.
And itâs also important to note that a will is just one part of the estate planning puzzle. If you have a more complex estate then you may also need to consider setting up a living trust. A trust allows you to transfer assets to the control of a trustee, who manages them on behalf of the trustâs beneficiaries. Trusts can be useful for minimizing estate taxes and creating a legacy of giving or wealth if thatâs part of your financial plan.
The Bottom Line
Nuncupative wills are rare and while some states do recognize them, they generally arenât valid in most circumstances. If you donât have a will in place, then creating one is something you may want to add to your financial to-do list. Even if you donât have a large estate or youâre unmarried with no children, having a will can still provide some reassurance about what will happen to your assets once you pass away.
Tips for Estate Planning
Consider talking to a financial advisor about will making and estate planning. If you donât have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesnât have to be complicated. SmartAssetâs financial advisor matching tool can help. By answering a few brief questions online you can get personalized recommendations for professional advisors in your local area. If youâre ready, get started now.
Along with a will and trust, there are other legal documents you might incorporate into your estate plan. An advance healthcare directive, for instance, can be used to spell out your wishes in case you become incapacitated. Power of attorney documents allow you to name someone who can make medical or financial decisions on your behalf when youâre unable to.
Do you know the allegory of Mr. Market? This useful parable—created by Warren Buffett’s mentor—might change everything you think about the stock market, its daily prices, and the endless news cycle (and blogs?!) built upon it.
The Original Mr. Market
The imaginary investor named “Mr. Market” was created by Benjamin Graham in his 1949 book The Intelligent Investor. Graham, if you’re not familiar, was the guy who taught Warren Buffett about securities analysis and value investing. Not a bad track record.
Graham asks the readers of his book to imagine that they have a business partner: a man named Mr. Market. On some days, Mr. Market arrives at work full of enthusiasm. Business is good and Mr. Market is wildly happy. So happy, in fact, that he wants to buy the reader’s share of the business.
But on other days, Mr. Market is incredibly depressed. The business has hit a bump in the road. Mr. Market will do anything to sell his own shares of the business to the reader.
Of course, the reader is always free to decline Mr. Market’s offers. And the reader certainly should feel wary of Mr. Market. After all, he is irrational, emotional, and moody. It seems he does not have good business judgement. Graham describes him as having, “incurable emotional problems.”
How can Mr. Market’s feelings fluctuate so quickly? Rather than taking an even emotional approach to business highs and lows, Mr. Market reacts strongly to the slightest bit of news.
If anything, the reader could probably find a way to take advantage of Mr. Market’s over-reactions. The reader could buy from Mr. Market when he’s feeling overly pessimistic and sell to Mr. Market when he’s feeling unjustifiably euphoric. This is one of the basic principles behind value investing.
But Mr. Market is a metaphor
Of course, Mr. Market is an imaginary investor. Yet countless readers have felt that Mr. Market acts as a perfect metaphor for the market fluctuations in the real stock market.
The stock market will come to you with a different price every day. The market will hear good news from a business and countless investors will look to buy that business’s stock. Will you sell to them? But a negative headline will send the market tumbling. Investors will sell. Please, they plead, will you buy my shares?!
Don’t like today’s price? You’ll get a new one tomorrow.
Is this any way to make rational money decisions? By buying while manic and selling while depressive? Do these daily market fluctuations relate to the true intrinsic value of the businesses they represent?
“Never buy something from someone who is out of breath”
There’s a reason why Benjamin Graham built Mr. Market to resemble an actual manic-depressive. It’s an unfortunate affliction. And sadly, those afflicted are often untethered from reality.
The stock market is nothing more than a collection of individuals. These individuals can fall prey to the same emotional overreactions as any other human. Mr. Market acts as a representation of those people.
“In the short run, the stock market is a voting machine. Yet, in the long run, it is a weighing machine.”
Votes are opinions, and opinions can be wrong. That’s why the market’s daily price fluctuations should not affect your long-term investing decisions. But weight is based on fact, and facts don’t lie. Over the long run, the true weight (or value) of a company will make itself apparent.
Warren Buffett’s Thoughts
Warren Buffett is on the record speaking to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders saying that Mr. Market is his favorite part of Benjamin Graham’s book.
If you cannot control your emotions, you cannot control your money.
Of course, Buffett is famous for skills beyond his emotional control. I mean, the guy is 90 years old and continues his daily habits of eating McDonalds and reading six hours of business briefings. That’s fame-worthy.
But Buffett’s point is that ignoring Mr. Market is 1) difficult but 2) vitally important. Your mental behavior is just as important as your investing choices.
For example: perhaps your business instincts suggested that Amazon was a great purchase in 1999—at about $100 per share. It was assuredly overvalued at that point based on intrinsic value, but your crystal ball saw a beautiful future.
But Buffett’s real question for you would be: did you sell Amazon when the Dot Com bubble burst (and the stock fell to less than $10 per share)? Did Mr. Market’s depression affect you? Or did your belief in the company’s long-term future allow to hold on until today—when the stock sits at over $3000 per share.
The Woefully Ignorant Sports Fan
I know about 25 different versions of this guy, so I bet you know at least one of them. I’m talking about the Woefully Ignorant Sports Fan, or WISF for short.
The WISF is a spitting image of Mr. Market.
When Lebron James has a couple bad games, the WISF confidently exclaims,
“The dude is a trash basketball player. He’s been overhyped since Day 1. I’m surprised he’s still in the starting lineup.”
Wow! That’s a pretty outrageous claim. But when Lebron wins the NBA finals and takes home another First-Team All-NBA award, the WISF changes his tune.
“I’m telling you, that’s why he’s the Greatest of All Time. The GOAT. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny he’s the King.”
To the outside observer, this kind of flip-flop removes any shred of the WISF’s credibility. And yet the WISF flip-flops constantly, consistently, and without a hint of irony. It’s simply his nature.
Now think about the WISF alongside Mr. Market. What does the WISF actually tell us about Lebron? Very little! And what does Mr. Market tell us about the true value of the companies on the stock market? Again, very little!
We should not seek truth in the loud pronouncements of an emotional judge. This is another aphorism from The Intelligent Investor book.
But I Want More Money!
Just out of curiosity, I logged into my Fidelity account in late March 2020. The COVID market was at the bottom of its tumble, and my 401(k) and Roth IRA both showed scarring.
Ouch. Tens of thousands of dollars disappeared. Years of saving and investing…poof. This is how investors lose heart. Should I sell now and save myself further losses?
More articles about investing & COVID
Ayy! Corona: the stock market and coronavirus
Viral Stock Market Strategies
No! Absolutely not! Selling at the bottom is what Mr. Market does. It’s emotional behavior. It’s not based on rationality, not on the intrinsic values of the underlying businesses.
My pessimism quickly subsided. In fact, I began to feel silver linings. Why?
I’m still in the buying phase of my investing career. I buy via my 401(k) account every two weeks. And I buy via my Roth IRA account every month. I’ve never sold a stock. The red ticks in the image below show my two-week purchasing schedule so far in 2020.
If you’re investing for later in life, then your emotions should typically be the opposite of the market’s emotions. If the market is sad and prices are low and they want to sell…well, great! A low price for you increases your ability to profit later.
And Benjamin Graham agrees. He doesn’t think you should ignore Mr. Market altogether, but instead should do business with him only when it’s in your best interest (ooh yeah!).
“The intelligent investor shouldn’t ignore Mr. Market entirely. Instead, you should do business with him, but only to the extent that it serves your interest.”
If you log into your investment accounts and see that your portfolio value is down, take a step back and consider what it really means. You haven’t lost any money. You don’t lock in any losses unless you sell.
The only two prices that ever matter are the price when you buy and the price when you sell.
Mr. Market in the News
If you pay close attention to the financial news, you’ll realize that it’s a mouthpiece for the emotional whims of Mr. Market. Does that include blogs, too? In some cases, absolutely. But I try to keep the Best Interest out of that fray.
For example, here are two headlines from September 29, 2020:
Just imagine if these two headlines existed in another space. “Bananas—A Healthy Snack That Prevents You From Ever Dying” vs. “Bananas—A Toxic Demon Food That Will Kill Your Family.”
The juxtaposition of these two headlines reminds me of Jason Zweig’s quote:
“The market is a pendulum that forever swings between unsustainable optimism (which makes stocks too expensive) and unjustified pessimism (which makes them too cheap).”
More often than not, reality sits somewhere between unsustainable optimism and unjustified pessimism. As an investor, your most important job is to not be duped by this emotional rollercoaster.
Investing Based on Recent Performance
Out of all the questions you send me (and please keep sending them!), one of the most common is:
“Jesse – I’m deciding between investment A, investment B, and investment C. I did some research, and B has the best returns over the past three years. So I should pick B, right?”
Great question! I’ve got a few different answers.
What is Mr. Market saying?
Let’s look at the FANG+ index. The index contains Twitter, Tesla, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, NVIDIA, and the Chinese companies Baidu and Alibaba. Wow! What an assortment of popular and well-known companies!
The recent price trend of FANG+ certainly represents that these companies are strong. The index has doubled over the past year.
Mr. Market is euphoric!
And what do we think when Mr. Market is euphoric?
How do you make money?
Another one of my favorite quotes from The Intelligent Investor is this:
“Obvious prospects for physical growth in a business do not translate into obvious profits for investors”
You make money when a company’s stock price is undervalued compared to its prospects for physical growth. You buy low (because it’s undervalued), the company grows, the stock price increases, you sell, and boom—you’ve made a profit.
I think most people would agree that the FANG+ companies all share prospects for physical growth. But, are those companies undervalued? Alternatively, have their potentials for future growth already been accounted for in their prices?
It’s just like someone saying, “I want a Ferrari! It’s such a famous car. How could it not be a great purchase?”
The statement is incomplete. How much are you paying for the Ferrari? Is it undervalued, only selling for $10,000? Or is it overvalued, selling at $10 million? The product itself—whether a car or a company—must be judged against the price it is selling for.
Past Results Do Not Guarantee Future Performance
If investing were as simple as, “History always repeats itself,” then writing articles like this wouldn’t be worthwhile. Every investment company in the world includes a disclaimer: “Past results do not guarantee future performance.”
Before making a specific choice like “Investment B,” one should understanding the ideas of results-oriented thinking and random walks.
Farewell, Mr. Market
Mr. Market, like the real stock market, is an emotional reactionary. His daily pronouncements are often untethered from reality. Don’t let him affect you.
Instead, realize that only two of Mr. Market’s thoughts ever matter—when you buy from him and when you sell to him. Do business with him, but make sure it’s in your best interest (oh yeah!). Everything else is just noise.
If the thoughts of Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett, and the Best Interest haven’t convinced you, just look at the financial news or consider the Woefully Ignorant Sports Fan. Rapidly changing opinions rarely reflect true reality.
Stay rational and happy investing!
If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, Iâd suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.
This page may include affiliate links. Please see theÂ disclosure pageÂ for more information. Bonds are often an integral part of a diversified investment portfolio. In our Worthy Bonds review, we’ll introduce you to a unique type of bond investment open to all investors. If a 5% interest is attractive to you, you’ll want to learn about…
The post Worthy Bonds Review: Earn 5% Interest on Your Money appeared first on Debt Discipline.
For investors with short-term saving goals, short-term bonds can be appropriate investments for your money.
They are stable and they certainly provide a higher return than a money market fund.
Get Matched With 3 Fiduciary Financial Advisors
Managing your finances can be overwhelming. We recommend speaking with aÂ financial advisor. TheÂ SmartAssetâs free matching toolÂ will pair you with up to 3 financial advisors in your area.
Hereâs how it works:
1.Â Answer these few easy questionsÂ about your current financial situation
2. In just under one minute, the tool will match you with up to three financial advisors based on your need.
3. Review the financial advisors profiles, interview them either by phone or in person, and choose the one that suits yourâ needs.
Get Started Now>>>
However, even with the best short term bond funds, there’s also a risk of losing a percent or two in principal value if interest rates rise.
There are many options available to you, but your best option is to invest in taxable short-term bond funds, U.S. Treasury short-term bond funds and federally tax-free bond funds.
*TOP CIT BANK PROMOTIONS*
CIT Bank Money Market
CIT Bank Savings Builder
CIT Bank CDs
0.75% APY 1 Year CD Term
CIT Bank No Penalty CD
What are short-term bonds?
Short-term bonds, or any bonds for that matter, are debts instruments that companies and the government issue. They typically mature in 1 to 3 years.
When you buy a bond, you are essentially lending money to the issuing company or government agency.
They are obligated to pay back the full purchase price at a particular time, which is called the “maturity date.”
Short-term bonds are low risk investments and you can have access to your money fairly quickly.
As with all bond funds, one of the risk of short term bond funds is that when interest rates rise, the prices of the bonds in the fund decrease.
But short term bond funds have a reduced risk of default, because the bond funds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.
Moreover, because the term is short, you will earn less money on it than on an immediate-term or long term bond fund.
Nonetheless, they are still competitive and produce higher returns than money market funds, Certificate of Deposits (CDs), and banks savings accounts. And short-term bonds are more stable in value than stocks.
At a minimum, don’t buy a short-term bond fund if you’re saving for retirement or if you want to hold your money longer.
If you’re looking to invest your money for the long term and are still looking for safety, consider investing in Vanguard index funds.
CIT Savings Builder – Earn 0.85% APY. Here’s how it works: Make at least a $100 minimum deposit every month. Or Maintain a minimum balance of $25k. Member FDIC. Click Here to Learn More.
Short-term bonds: why do you need to invest in them?
You should invest in short-bonds if you intend to use the money in a few years or so. However, don’t push your emergency cash into bonds. That is what a bank savings account is for.
Also, you should not put too much of your long term investment money into bonds, either. If you have a long term goal for your money, it’s best to invest in mutual funds such as Vanguard mutual funds, real estate, or your own business.
Here are some situations where you should invest in short term bonds.
You want to stabilize your investment portfolio. If you have other aggressive investments, you may need to balance it out with short term bond funds. The reason is because short term bonds are safer comparing to stocks.
Buying a house.
Retirement. If you’re thinking of retiring in a few years, short-term bonds are appropriate.
Purchasing a car.
You’re a conservative investor. Not all investors can stomach the risk of losing all of their money due to the market volatility. So instead of investing in stocks, which falls on the riskier end of the securities spectrum, you should invest in short term bond funds.
Best short-term bond funds to consider:
Most people prefer to buy bonds through a broker such as Vanguard or Fidelity.
If you’re looking for the best short-term bond funds to buy now, consider these options:
Vanguard Short-Term Treasury Index Fund Admiral Shares (VSBSX)
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VMLTX)
The Fidelity Short Term Bond Fund (FSHBX)
Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Share (VWSTX)
Vanguard Short-Term Investment Grade fund (VFSTX)
T. Rowe Price Short-Term Bond Fund (PRWBX)
Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index Fund (VBIRX)
Tax free short-term bonds
There are some short-term bond funds that are both state and federally tax free. But there are not too many out there.
However, the ones that are available are good investments. So, if you are in a low state bracket and in a high federal bracket, consider investing in these Vanguard bond funds.These are federally tax free bond funds:
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VMLTX)
This Vanguard bond fund seeks to provide investors current income exempt from federal taxes. The fund invests in high-quality short-term municipal bonds.
This bond fund has a maturity of 2 years. So, if you are looking for a fund that provides modest income and is federal tax-exempt, the Vanguard Limited-Term Tax Exempt Fund is for you.
The fund has an expense ratio of 0.17% and a minimum investment of $3,000. This makes it one of the best short term bonds to buy.
Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Share (VWSTX)
Like the Vanguard Limited Short Term fund, this fund also provides investors with current income that is exempt from federal income taxes.
The majority of the fund invests in municipal bonds in the top three credit ratings categories. It also invests in medium grade quality bonds.
This fund too has an expense ratio of 0.17% and a minimum investment of $3,000, making it one of the best short term bond funds.
U.S Treasury Short-term Bond Funds: Vanguard Short-Term Treasury
If you’re interested in a bond fund that invests in U.S. Treasuries, then U.S.Treasury bond funds are a great choice for you. One of the best U.S.Treasury bond funds is the Vanguard Short-Term Treasury.
This bond fund seeks to track the performance of the Bloomberg Barclays US Treasury 1-3 Year Bond Index. The Vanguard Short-Term Treasury invests in fixed income securities with a maturity between 1 to 3 years.
This bond fund has an expense ratio of 0.07% and an initial minimum investment of $3,000. Currently, this short term bond fund has a 1-year yield of 4.51%, making it one of the best short term bond funds.
Of note, this fund is also available as an ETF, starting at the price of one share.
The Fidelity Short-Term Bond Fund (FSHBX)
The Fidelity Short Term Bond Fund is one of the best out there for those investors who want to preserve their capital. This fund was established in March of 1986 and seeks to provides investors with current income.
The fund managers invests in corporate bonds, U.S. Treasury bonds, and assets backed securities. Over the last 10 years, this bond fund has a yield of 1.98% and a 30-day yield of 1.98%. This Fidelity bond fund as an expense ratio of 0.45%. There is no minimum investment requirement.
Taxable short-term bond funds: Vanguard Short-Term Investment Grade fund (VFSTX)
If you are not in a high tax bracket, then you should consider investing in a taxable short term bond fund. One of the best out there is the Vanguard Short-Term Investment Grade fund.
This bond fund provides investors exposure to high and medium quality investment grade bonds, such as corporate bonds and US government bonds. This fund has an expense ratio of 0.20% and an initial minimum investment of $3,000, making it one of the best short term bond funds out there.
T. Rowe Price Short-Term Bond Fund (PRWBX)
The T. Rowe Price Short-Term Bond Fund invests in diversified portfolio of short term investment-grade corporate, government, asset and mortgage-backed securities. This bond fund also invests in some bank mortgages and foreign securities. This fund produce a higher return than a money market fund, but less return than a long-term bond fund. The T. Rowe Price Short-Term Bond Fund has a minimum investment requirement of $2500, making it one the most favorite short term bond funds out there.
Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index Fund (VBIRX)
The Vanguard Short-Term bond is a good choice for the conservative investor. It offers a low cost, diversified exposure to U.S. investment-grade bonds. This has fund has a maturity date between 1 to 5 years. Moreover, the fund invests about 70% in US government bonds and 30% in corporate bonds. The bond fund as an expense ratio of 0.07% and a minimum investment requirement of $3,000.
How to Invest in Short-Term Bonds
If you’re considering in investing in these or any of Vanguard bond funds, you need to do your due diligence.
First, think about what you need the bond fund in the first place. Is it to diversify your investment portfolio?
Are you a conservative investor who need a minimize risk at all cost? Or, do you want to invest in a short term bond fund because you need the money to use in a few years for a vacation, buying a house, or planning for a wedding?
Once, you have come up with answers to this question, the next step is to do your research about the best bond fund available to you.
Use this list to start. If it’s not enough, do your own research.
Look into how much the initial minimum investment is to buy a bond fund. Most Vanguard short term bond funds require a $3,000 minimum deposit.
Some Fidelity bond funds, however, have a 0$ minimum deposit requirement.
Next compare expense rations, performance for different funds to see if they match your investment goals. But you have to remember that past performance is not an indication of future performance.
Your final step is to open an account to buy your bond funds. If you choose Vanguard, you can do so at their website.
How do you make money with short-term bonds?
You can make money with short-term bonds the same ways you make money with a mutual fund (i.e., dividends, capital gains, and appreciation). But most of your returns in a bond fund comes from dividends.
The bottom line
In brief, short-term bonds are great investment choices if you have short term saving goals. You may be interested in buying these bonds because you expect to tap into your investment within a few years or so. Or, you want a more conservative investment portfolio.
Short term bonds produce higher yields than money market funds.
The only problem is that the share prices can fluctuate. So, if you don’t mind market volatility, you may wish to consider short-term bonds.
Speak with the Right Financial Advisor
If you have questions beyond short-term bonds, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
Find one who meets your needs with SmartAssetâs free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
*TOP CIT BANK PROMOTIONS*
CIT Bank Money Market
CIT Bank Savings Builder
CIT Bank CDs
0.75% APY 1 Year CD Term
CIT Bank No Penalty CD
The post 7 Best Short-Term Bonds Funds to Buy in 2020 appeared first on GrowthRapidly.
I love making things automatic. Whether it is bill-paying, direct deposit, prescription renewals, or investing, making things automatic makes life easier, and that is where our Betterment investing review comes in.
When it comes to retirement planning, an overwhelming number of online tools and websites promise to help you create a dynamic and profitable portfolio while minimizing fees.
This growing list of services includes robo-advisors, a class of financial websites that offer to manage your portfolio with minimal in-person interaction and a heavy reliance on the latest investing tools and software.
One of the most popular robo-advisors by far is Betterment. Conceptualized by its founders in 2008, Betterment has since grown to help its customers invest billions of dollars of their hard-earned dollars. This is an investment platform that puts your investing on cruise control, and even allows you to make money watching TV! You can open an account with no money at all, and get the benefit of professional, low-cost investment management that enables you to invest in thousands of securities with as little as a few hundred dollars.
It hasnât been easy. With other competitors like Wealthfront and Personal Capital always a few steps behind them, Betterment has struggled to find a way to stand out. Even with the competition, Betterment has emerged as one of the top online brokerage accounts and continues to grow its market share.
Open an account
0.25% to 0.40% annual management fee, depending on the plan
No trade, transfer or rebalancing fees
No minimum balance
Hands-off investing tailored to your goals and risk preference
Betterment is an online, automated investment manager that uses advanced algorithms and software to find the perfect investment strategy for your portfolio and individual needs.
The main difference between investing your money with a traditional financial advisor and Betterment is that there is minimal human interaction. Unless you email or call in, your communication with an individual advisor will be very minimal.
But, there is some good news to counteract the lack of individual service. Because of lower operating costs, Betterment is able to charge lower fees than traditional financial advisors. This can be huge for individuals who want to take a hands-off approach to their retirement accounts, yet donât want to pay top dollar for access to a top-tier financial advisor in their area.
Using complex investment software, Betterment allocates your investment portfolio based on your individual circumstances, investment time horizon, and thirst for risk.
In the meantime, they keep fees at a minimum by using ETFs (exchange-traded fund) that let you have a diversified portfolio, like mutual funds, but are tradeable much like stocks.
Since ETFs come with very low expense ratios, Betterment is able to pass those savings along to the consumer. Although the program already manages over $16 billion for their clients, they are still growing at a rapid pace.
Because the service is able and willing to deal with investors at all stages of wealth accumulation, it has become a go-to for both experienced and novice investors with various investing goals.
Further, Bettermentâs portfolio strategy isnât geared just for retirement savings; the service can also improve your returns on dollars you invest for short-term and medium-term goals like saving for college, taking an annual vacation, or building up a cash reserve.
How Betterment Works
Like post other robo-advisors, Betterment provides complete, automated investment management of your portfolio. When you sign up for the service, youâll complete a questionnaire that will determine your risk tolerance, investment goals, and time horizon. From that information, Betterment determines your portfolio will be designed as conservatives, aggressive, or some level in between.
Over time however, Betterment may adjust your portfolio to become gradually more conservative. For example, as you move closer to retirement, your asset allocation will be gradually shifted more heavily in favor of safe investments, like bonds.
Your portfolio will be constructed of exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are low-cost investment funds designed to track the performance of an underlying index. In this way, Betterment attempts to match the performance of the underlying indexes, rather than to outperform them. For this reason, investing with Betterment â and most other robo-advisors â is considered to be passive investing. (Active investing involves frequent trading of stocks and other securities in an attempt to outperform the market.)
Betterment also uses allocations based on broad investment categories. There are three in total:
Safety Net â These are funds allocated for near-term needs, such as an emergency fund.
Retirement â This will naturally be your long-term investment account and held in tax-sheltered IRAs.
General Investing â This allocation is dedicated to intermediate goals, maybe saving for the down payment on a house or even for your childrenâs education.
Given that each of the three broad goals has a different time horizon, the specific portfolio allocation in each will be a little bit different. For example, the Safety Net will be invested in cash type accounts for safety and liquidity.
Betterment Advantages And Disadvantages
Thereâs no minimum investment required.
The low annual fee of 0.25% on the Digital plan can allow you to have a $20,000 account managed for just $50 per year, or a $100,000 account for just $250.
Tax-loss harvesting is available at all taxable accounts.
Betterment Premium provides unlimited access to certified financial planners, providing a service similar to traditional investment advisors, but at a fraction of the cost.
The No-fee Checking and Cash Reserve give you cash management options to go with your investing activities.
Betterment offers several portfolio options, including Smart Beta, Socially Responsible Investing, and the BlackRock Targeted Income Portfolio.
The use of value funds also adds the potential for your investment accounts to outperform the general market, since value stocks tend to be underpriced relative to their competitors.
Flexible Portfolio will give you some control over your investment allocations, which is a feature absent from most robo-advisors.
Bettermentâs annual advisory fee is on the low end of the robo-advisor range. But there are some robo-advisors charging no fees at all.
Betterment doesnât offer alternative investments. These include natural resources and real estate, which are offered by some of their competitors.
External account syncing is available only with Betterment Premium.
The Betterment Investment Methodology
Like most other robo-advisors, Betterment manages your investment account using Modern Portfolio Theory, or MPT. The theory emphasizes proper allocations into various asset classes over individual security selection.
Your portfolio is divided between six stock asset allocations and eight bond asset allocations. Each allocation is represented by a single ETF thatâs tied to an index specific to that asset class. The single ETF will provide exposure to scores or even hundreds of securities in each asset class. That means collectively your investment will be spread across thousands of securities in the US and internationally.
The six stock asset allocations are as follows:
US Total Stock Market
US Value Stocks â Large Cap
US Value Stocks â Mid Cap
US Value Stocks â Small Cap
International Developed Market Stocks
International Emerging Markets Stocks
The eight bond asset allocations are as follows:
US High Quality Bonds
US Municipal Bonds (will be held in taxable investment accounts only)
US Inflation-Protected Bonds
US High-Yield Corporate Bonds
US Short-Term Treasury Bonds
US Short-Term Investment Grade Bonds
International Developed Market Bonds
International Emerging Markets Bonds
Since Betterment offers tax-loss harvesting with taxable investment accounts, most asset classes will have two or three very similar ETFs. This will enable Betterment to sell a losing position in one ETF to reduce capital gains in winning asset classes. Alternative ETFs are then purchased to replace the sold funds to maintain the target asset allocations in your account.
Tax-loss harvesting is becoming an increasingly popular investment strategy because it effectively defers capital gains taxes into future years. Itâs available only for taxable accounts, since tax-sheltered accounts have no immediate tax consequences.
How Betterment Compares
Here’s how Betterment compares to the previously mentioned companies, Wealthfront and Personal Capital.
Minimum Initial Investment
0.25% on Digital; 0.40% on Premium (account balance over $100k)
0.25% on all account balances
0.89% on most account balances; reduced fee on balances > $1 million
On Premium Plan only
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on Premium Plan only
Betterment Accounts and Options
For the first few years of Bettermentâs existence they offered a single investment account serving as a one-size-fits-all plan. But thatâs all changed. They still offer basic investment accounts, but they now give you a choice of multiple investment options.
This is Bettermentâs basic investment plan. There is no minimum initial investment required, nor is there a minimum ongoing balance requirement. Betterment charges a single fee of 0.25% on all account balances.
You can also add any other portfolio variations, except the Goldman Sachs Smart Beta portfolio, which has a $100,000 minimum account balance requirement.
Betterment Premium works similar to the Digital plan, but it delivers a higher level of service. The plan provides external account synching, giving Betterment a high altitude view of you your entire financial situation. External investment accounts can help in enabling Betterment to better coordinate your portfolio allocations with assets held in outside accounts. They can also make recommendations out to better manage those external accounts.
And perhaps the biggest advantage of the Premium plan is that it comes with unlimited access to Bettermentâs certified financial planners. In this way, Betterment is competing more directly with traditional investment advisors, but doing it with a robo-advisor component.
Youâll need a minimum of $100,000 to invest in the Premium plan, and the annual advisory fee is 0.40%. Thatâs just a fraction of the usual 1% to 2% typically charged by traditional investment advisory services.
Betterment Cash Reserve
The account pays a variable interest rate, currently set at 0.40% APY. Betterment doesnât actually hold these funds directly, but rather invest them through participating program banks.
Thereâs no fee for this account, and you can move money as often as you want. And for those with very high cash balances, the account is FDIC insured for up to $1 million through the program banks.
Betterment Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)
SRI portfolios are becoming increasingly popular in the robo-advisor space. It involves investing in companies that meet certain standards for social, environmental, and governance guidelines. Betterment indicates that the ETFs they use in their SRI portfolio have produced a 42% increase in their social responsibility scores.
SRI portfolios work with both the Digital and Premium plans, using a similar investment methodology. But they make certain modifications, holding ETFs based on SRI in place of the ETFs used in non-SRI portfolios.
SRI portfolios do not require a minimum balance and charge no additional fees. And like their Digital and Premium plans, taxable SRI investment accounts take advantage of tax-loss harvesting.
Betterment Flexible Portfolios
The key word in the name is âflexibleâ because the main feature is adding personal options to your portfolio allocations.
This is done by adjusting the individual asset class weights in your portfolio. For example, if you have a 7% allocation in emerging markets, you may choose to increase it to 10% if you believe that sector is likely to outperform others. But you can also decrease the allocation if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Betterment Tax-Coordinated Portfolio
This is less of a formal portfolio and more of an investment strategy. It must be used in combination with a taxable investment account and a tax-sheltered retirement account. Betterment will then allocate investments based on their tax impact.
For example, income generating assets â that produce high dividend and interest income â are held in a tax-sheltered account. Investments likely to generate long-term capital gains are held in a taxable investment account, since you will be able to take advantage of lower long-term capital gains tax rates.
Goldman Sachs Smart Beta
This option is for more sophisticated investors, and requires a minimum account balance of $100,000. And since it is a high risk/high reward type of investing, it also requires a higher risk tolerance.
Betterment uses the same basic investment strategy as they do in other portfolios. But itâs an actively managed portfolio that will be adjusted in an attempt to outperform the general market. Securities will be bought and sold within the portfolio and can include either individual securities or Smart Beta ETFs.
The portfolio has many variations, including a wide range of allocations. Stocks are chosen based on four qualities: good value, strong momentum, high quality, and low volatility.
And like other portfolio variations Betterment offers, there is no additional fee for this option.
BlackRock Target Income Portfolio
Betterment recognizes that some investors are more interested in income than growth. This will particularly apply to retirees. The BlackRock Target Income Portfolio invests in portfolios based on your risk tolerance. This can mean low, moderate, high, or even aggressive.
Those categories may seem unusual for an income generating portfolio. But while the portfolio attempts to minimize risk of principal, it also recognizes that some investors are willing to add risk to their portfolio in exchange for higher returns.
A low-risk portfolio may have a higher allocation in US Treasury securities. An aggressive portfolio may center primarily on high-yield corporate bonds or even emerging-market bonds that have higher interest rates due to greater risk.
Betterment No-fee Checking
Provided by Betterment Financial LLC in partnership with NBKC Bank, this is a true no-fee checking account. Not only are there no monthly maintenance fees, but there are also no overdraft or other fees. Theyâll even reimburse all ATM fees and foreign transaction fees you incur. And thereâs not even a minimum balance requirement.
Youâll be provided with a Betterment Visa Debit Card with tap-to-pay technology, that you can use anywhere Visa is accepted. All account balances are FDIC insured for up to $250,000. And as you might expect from a company on the technological cutting edge, you can deposit checks into the account using your smartphone.
Check out our full Betterment checking review.
Betterment Key Features
Minimum initial investment: Betterment requires no funds to open an account. But you can begin funding your account with monthly deposits, like $100 per month. This method will make it easier to use dollar-cost averaging to gradually move into your portfolio positions.
Available account types: Joint and individual taxable investment accounts, as well as traditional, Roth, rollover and SEP IRAs. Betterment can also accommodate trusts and nonprofit accounts.
Portfolio rebalancing: Comes with all account types. Your portfolio will be rebalanced when your asset allocations significantly depart from their targets.
Automatic dividend reinvestment: Betterment will reinvest dividends received in your portfolio according to your target asset allocations.
Betterment Mobile App: You can access your Betterment account on your smartphone. The app is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Customer contact: Available by phone and email, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm, Eastern time.
Account protection: All Betterment accounts are protected by SIPC insurance for up to $500,000 in cash and securities, including up to $250,000 in cash. SIPC covers losses due to broker failure, not those caused by market value declines.
Financial Advice packages: Betterment offers one-hour phone conferences with live financial advisors on various personal financial topics. Five topics are covered:
Getting Started package: This package gives new users the professional vote of confidence they need as a professional will assess their account setup. $199
Financial Checkup package: This package takes it a step further, providing the customer with a professional opinion on their portfolio and financial circumstances. $299
College Planning package: As its name implies, this package helps parents who are investing with the goal of paying for their childrenâs college education in the next 5-18 years. $299
Marriage Planning package: Merging finances can be tricky, so Betterment created this plan to help engaged couples and newlyweds to succeed as they unite their lives and assets. $299
Retirement Planning package: Your investment goals and strategies change as you near retirement. This particular package helps keep you on target to meet them. $299
Retirement Savings Calculator: Robo-advisors are popular choices for retirement accounts. For this reason, Betterment offers the Calculator to help you project your retirement needs. By entering basic information in the calculator (it will sync external accounts if you have a Premium account â including employer-sponsored retirement plans) it will let you know if you are on track to meet your goals or if you need to make adjustments.
How To Sign Up For A Betterment Account
The Betterment sign up process is one of the most user-friendly out there for any brokerage. It comes with easy-to-follow instructions and as streamlined registration process which users can navigate through in a matter of minutes.
First get the process started by clicking the button below.
Sign up for a Betterment Account
After the initial sign up process, users can expect a simple transaction as they transfer funds into the account, much like moving money from a checking to savings account.
When you begin the sign-up process, youâll be given a choice of four different investment goals:
I chose âInvest for retirementâ. It will ask your current age, your annual income, then give you a choice of accounts to use. That includes a traditional, Roth, or SEP IRA, or even an individual taxable account. I selected a traditional IRA.
Based on a 30-year-old with a $100,000 income, Betterment return the following recommendation:
You even have the option to have the specific asset allocations listed. After clicking âContinueâ, youâll be asked to provide your email address and create a password. Youâll then be taken to the application, which will ask for general information, including your name, address, phone number, and how you heard about Betterment.
Once your account has been set up, you can fund it immediately, by connecting your bank account, or by setting up recurring deposits.
You can also set up other accounts, such as âManage spending with Checkingâ or âInvest for a long-term goalâ.
Why You Should Open An Account With Betterment
While nearly anyone who invests could benefit from the online portfolio management and advising, this service is definitely geared to certain types of investors. In most cases, Betterment will work best for:
Hands-off investors who have some investing knowledge â Since it takes care of the heavy lifting for you, it works best for investors who want to take a hands-off approach to their investment portfolio. Passive investors can let Betterment handle the logistics while using online account management to keep a close eye on their accounts.
Novice investors who need help â Beginning investors who are just learning the ropes can turn to Betterment for online portfolio management with low fees. The many online tools and user-friendly interface make it easy for beginners to get a grasp on basic financial concepts and investing strategies.
Robo-advisors are growing in popularity and could easily replace in-person advisors in the near future. With lower fees and advanced software that can maximize results, online investing is certainly gaining an edge.
Whether Betterment is right for you depends on your individual needs and investing goals. If youâre a hands-off investor who wants to grow your retirement funds without paying a lot of fees, then Betterment might be ideal. Additionally, beginning investors can benefit handsomely from the online tools and investing education offered through the Betterment website.
If you think Betterment investing might be exactly what your portfolio needs, sign up for a new account today.
However, if you determine that you would be better served by a more hands-on approach, check out the other online brokerage account options. Being a certified financial planner, I have had a chance to work with several of these platforms and have done the following reviews:
Motif Investing Review
Lending Club Review
Ally Invest Review
The post Betterment Investing Review: Make Investing Automatic appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.