- Summary: In most cases, distributions from a 401k, IRA or other retirement account before the account owner reaches the age of 59.5 are subject to a 10% penalty. There are, however, a number of exceptions. Some of the exceptions are unique to IRAs, while others are unique to 401k and other Workplace Retirement Plans.
- Hardship Exceptions
- Death (401k & IRA)
- Total and permanent disability (401k & IRA)
- Military: certain distributions to qualified military reservists called to active duty (401k & IRA)
- Medical: amount of unreimbursed medical expenses (>10% AGI for 2021, >7.5% AGI; for 2017 – 2020) (401k & IRA)
- 401k Loan
- Divorce: to an alternate payee under a Qualified Domestic Relations Order
- Permissive withdrawals from a plan with auto enrollment features (401k only)
- Must elect to withdrawal the funds within the time allowed by the plan (30 to 90 days)
- Forfeit any employer matching contributions
- Invest in Your Future Exceptions (IRAs Only)
- Education: qualified higher education expenses
- Homebuyers: qualified first-time homebuyers, up to $10,000
- Early Retirement Exceptions
- Equal Payments: series of substantially equal payments (for 401k, cannot work for employer) (401k & IRA)
- Payments can be based on just one account or multiple accounts
- Age 55 (401k Only): the employee separates from service during or after the year the employee reaches age 55 (age 50 for public safety employees of a state, or political subdivision of a state, in a governmental defined benefit plan)**
- Roth IRA Conversion Ladder
- Equal Payments: series of substantially equal payments (for 401k, cannot work for employer) (401k & IRA)
Fidelity ZERO Funds–Are They Worth the Cost?
Fidelity launched its ZERO index funds in 2018 to much fanfare. As their names suggest, these funds carry no expense ratios, a first in the industry.
As great as a “free” mutual fund may sound, however, many wonder whether there is a catch. Recently a subscribe to my YouTube channel asked the following questions:
Could you please share your thoughts on Fidelity ZERO funds vs their fee based funds?Fidelity ZERO International Index Fund (FZILX)Fidelity ZERO Total Market Index Fund (FZROX)Fidelity ZERO Large Cap Index Fund (FNILX)Fidelity ZERO Extended Market Index Fund (FZIPX)
Is FNILX + FZIPX = FZROX ?
ZERO funds have no fees, but other than cost, do you see any reason why one should invest in fee based instead of zero funds?
If you could please create video and share your thoughts, that would be very helpful.
Let's dive into the details to get a better understanding of the Fidelity ZERO funds.
4 Fidelity Zero Funds
The ZERO funds consist of four index funds. These funds charge no fees in the form of an Expense Ratio, although they do pass on transaction costs to investors. There are also no minimum investment requirements.
The catch, if you want to call it that, is that the funds track proprietary indexes Fidelity created. That means, for example, that the Fidelity ZERO Large Cap index fund does NOT track the S&P 500, as one might expect.
Here are the details on each fund's tracking index. (Note that Fidelity does not offer a ZERO fund for bonds.)
Fidelity ZERO Large Cap Index Fund (FNILX)
The Fidelity ZERO Large Cap Index Fund tracks the Fidelity U.S. Large Cap Index. The index is a float-adjusted market capitalization-weighted index. That simply means it tracks companies based on the number and value of shares outstanding in the market. Its focus is on the U.S. large capitalization equity market.
The index tracks the top 500 companies. It can, however, have fewer companies based on liquidity and investing screens that Fidelity uses. For example, the index (and the other two U.S. indexes discussed below) exclude companies with capitalizations under $75 million or with limited trading volume.
It can also have more than 500 stocks if some companies have multiple share classes. Fidelity rebalances the index annually on the third Friday in February (so mark your calendars!).
The index is similar to the S&P 500 index, but there are some differences, as we'll see below.
Fidelity ZERO Extended Market Index Fund (FZIPX)
The Fidelity ZERO Extended Market Index Fund (FZIPX) tracks the Fidelity U.S. Extended Investable Market Index. Its designed to track U.S. mid- and small-cap stocks. It is a subset of the Fidelity U.S. Total Investable Market Index (see below), excluding the 500 largest companies.
Perhaps the closest comparison of this index is the the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index. The primary difference is that the Fidelity index is limited to 2,500 companies, whereas the Dow Jones index has just under 3,500 companies.
Fidelity ZERO Total Market Index Fund (FZROX)
The Fidelity ZERO Total Market Index Fund (FZROX) tracks the Fidelity U.S. Total Investable Market Index. This index is effectively a combination of the Large Cap and Extended Market indexes described above. As such, it is limited to 3,000 companies.
Its closest comparison is the Dow Jones U.S. Total Stock Market Index. It's not an exact match, however, as the Down Jones index tracks nearly 4,000 companies.
Fidelity ZERO International Index Fund (FZILX)
Finally, the Fidelity ZERO International Index Fund (FZILX) tracks the Fidelity Global ex. U.S. Index. Fidelity designed this index to track mid- and large-cap companies headquartered outside the U.S. The index is created by selecting the top 90% of stocks as measured by market cap in each country.
This index is similar to the MSCI ACWI Ex USA Index. This index, however, holds about 4,700 companies, while the free version holds about 2,300 companies.
How Fidelity ZERO Funds Compare
While free funds offer an initial appeal, one wonders if investors are getting what they paid for. Are the Fidelity indexes used by the ZERO funds generating the same or better returns as the more widely used indexes? This is particularly important given that other Fidelity index funds, while they charge a fee, are still very close to $0 in cost (generally 6 basis points or less).
To get a better understanding, I compared each of Fidelity's ZERO funds with a close counterpart offered by Fidelity.
FNILX vs FXAIX
Fidelity's Large Cap ZERO fund is arguably the closest to its most comparable index, the S&P 500. A comparison of the fund to Fidelity's S&P 500 index fund (FXAIX) in Morningstar shows very similar style boxes and the same top 10 holdings. The notable difference is in the percentage held of each of the top 10 companies (the ZERO fund is on the left in each snapshot).
Performance data on the ZERO funds is limited as the funds were launched in 2018. Nevertheless, since then the ZERO Large Cap fund has outperformed Fidelity's S&P 500 index fund by substantially more than its 1.5 basis point fee:
Whether the ZERO fund will continue to outperform the S&P 500 index only time can tell. As you'll see below, however, the other ZERO funds haven't performed as well.
FZIPX vs FSMAX
Fidelity's Extended Market Index fund (FSMAX) tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market index. Think of it as everything except the companies in the S&P 500. As such, it covers about 1,000 more companies than Fidelity's proprietary completion index used for the ZERO extended fund. Its cost is just 3.5 basis points.
In the short time FZIPX has been available, it has significantly underperformed FSMAX even with the same volatility. Here are the comparisons:
FZROX vs FSKAX
Fidelity's Total Market Index fund (FSKAX) is the closest comparable to its ZERO Total Market fund. FSKAX charges just 1.5 basis points and gives investors exposure to over 3,700 stocks. The ZERO fund, in contrast, holds about 2,600 equity holdings.
While returns thus far have been nearly identical, FSKAX has managed to edge out the ZERO fund by 2 basis points. The comparable performance is likely driven by the similar returns amongst the larges U.S. companies in these cap-weighted funds.
FZILX vs FTIHX
Fidelity's Total International Index (FTIHX) charges 6 basis points and tracks the MSCI ACWI ex USA Investable Market index. The style box for this and the ZERO International Index are nearly identical. The free fund, however, holds just under 2,400 stocks while FTIHX holds over 4,700 stocks. And FTIHX has edged out the ZERO fund in performance thus far.
The cost of most index funds have fallen dramatically over the last few decades. Today one can invest in an index fund for 10 basis points or less. In many cases, a fund costs less than 5 basis points. For that reason, Fidelity ZERO funds seem more like a marketing strategy than a product that meets investors' needs.
Certainly free beats even a very small cost. The problem is that fidelity achieves a 0% Expense Ratio by tracking its own proprietary indexes. I'm not sure that's worth saving a few basis points each year. And thus far, with perhaps the exception of the Large Cap ZERO fund, these funds have trailed their Fidelity counterparts by more that the cost savings.
That said, I would have no reservations investing in one of these funds in a 401k if it were my best option.
I use Personal Capital to track all of my investments. The free tool shows me my asset allocation, total costs, and even retirement projections. Check out my Personal Capital Review and User’s Guide to learn how it can help you, too.
The 60/40 Portfolio for Retirees–Good, Bad or Ugly?
The 60/40 portfolio has powered retirements for decades. With 60% stocks and 40% bonds, this balanced fund offers equity-fueled growth and fixed income stability.
Today, however, many are calling into question the sustainability of the 60/40 portfolio. Some even argue that it's dead and that retirees need take on more risk if they want to avoid outliving their retirement savings.
In this article we'll take a deep dive into the 60/40 portfolio and whether it's still a viable approach to investing for retirees.
Table of contents
- A Brief History of the 60/40 Portfolio
- Arguments that 60/40 Portfolio is Dead
- Arguments that 60/40 Portfolio is Still Solid
- Building a 60/40 Portfolio
- Final Thoughts
A Brief History of the 60/40 Portfolio
Dating back to 1926, the 60/40 portfolio has enjoyed an annualized return of 9.1% (Source: Vanguard). Its best year, 1993, saw returns of 36.7%, while its worst year, 1931, experienced a loss of 26.6%. Over those 95 years, 22 saw the portfolio decline in value. The returns combined with relative stability have made the balanced portfolio ideal for retirees.
More recent returns show similar results. From 1972 to 2021 a 60/40 portfolio consisting of an S&P 500 index for stocks and intermediate term Treasuries for bonds has returned 9.61% with a standard deviation of 9.51% (via Portfolio Visualizer). The combination of solid returns with less volatility has been ideal for retirees.
In his 1994 paper, certified financial planner Bill Bengen gave us what is now known as the 4% Rule. In brief, the 4% Rule states the following:
- A retiree can spend 4% of their investments in the first year of retirement;
- In subsequent years, the retiree can adjust the prior year's distribution by the rate of inflation; and
- Following this approach, the retiree should not outlive their money.
Why do we care about the 4% rule? We care because the 60/40 portfolio fits in the sweet spot of the 4% Rule. Bengen found that retirees should hold somewhere between 50% and 75% in equities. In a later book, he identified 60/40 as the ideal portfolio in retirement to avoid outliving a nest egg. Other papers evaluating safe withdrawal rates have reached similar conclusions (as we'll see in a minute). Some have even evaluated its performance back to 1871!
Notwithstanding the 60/40 portfolio's stellar history dating back to the post-Civil War era, many are now calling into question its future.
Arguments that 60/40 Portfolio is Dead
There have been several arguments put forth that the 60/40 portfolio is no longer ideal for retirees. All of the arguments stem from the unprecedented financial times we are currently in.
Argument #1: Bond yields are at all-time lows
The yield on the 10-year Treasury sunk to its lowest in 2020 and remains at historic lows. When viewed on a yearly basis, the yield sunk below 2% back in 1941 (1.95% to be precise). Apart from that one year, it remained above 2.00% until 2012 (Source: Shiller). It's currently at about 1.30%.
During much of the 20th century, the yield was significantly higher. It reached over 14% in 1982. At today's low yields, many question how a 60/40 portfolio could survive a 30-year retirement.
From Money (4/21/21):
“I think the 60/40 portfolio is antiquated,” says Keith Singer of Singer Wealth Advisors in Boca Raton, Florida. “When bonds used to pay 6-8% and interest rates were falling, the 60/40 model worked great. But as they say, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and that is especially true with the 60/40 portfolio.” (Source: Money).
Argument #2: The 40-Year Bull Market in Bonds Is Over
The second argument relates to the fall of yields over the past 40 years. They hit a high in 1982, and then steadily dropped to their historic lows today. As bond yields fall, the value of existing bonds go up. As such, retirees have benefited from falling interest rates. Unless rates go negative, however, most believe the bull market in bonds is over
If the bond bull market is over, and rates begin to rise, the value of existing bonds will fall. Rising rates can also lead to lower asset values on everything from stocks to real estate, which brings us to the third argument.
Argument #3: Equity Valuations are High (and must fall significantly)
Many point to the richly valued S&P 500. The Shiller PE, which measures price-to-earnings over 10-year periods, is at one of its highest levels.
The argument here is simple. Lofty valuations suggest that stock returns over the next decade will be much lower than historical averages.
At the same time, many argue that the 60/40 portfolio should shift to a greater allocation in stocks. The reason is that while stocks are expensive, the additional long-term returns are needed to offset the paltry returns expected from bonds.
A recent report from Goldman Sachs framed the issue as follows:
The beneficial role of bonds in balanced portfolios has more recently been in doubt given that bond yields close to the zero lower bound offer a diminished returns buffer during “risk-off” periods. These doubts have only increased alongside concerns that an accelerating economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, amplified by historically large US fiscal stimulus, could lead to a strong rise in inflation and, in turn, the start of a prolonged bond bear market. During most historical bond bear markets, equities have outperformed bonds and have delivered positive real returns. This has been especially the case over the last 20 years, during which bond bear markets tended to be short and shallow.Source: https://www.goldmansachs.com/insights/pages/gs-research/reflation-risk/report.pdf
Argument #4: Negative Correlation May be Over
Finally, many believe the negative correlation that stocks and bonds have enjoyed over the past two decades may be over. In a report entitled The End of 60/40, Bank of America analysts warn that bonds may no longer provide the diversification investors have come to expect.
The authors explain,
The core premise of every 60/40 portfolio is that bonds can hedge against risks to growth and equities can hedge against inflation; their returns are negatively correlated,” Woodard and Harris added. “But this assumption was only true over the past two decades and was mostly false over the prior 65 years. The big risk is that the correlation could flip, and now the longest period of negative correlation in history is coming to an end as policy makers jolt markets with attempts to boost growth.
In short, there's no place to hide.
Arguments that 60/40 Portfolio is Still Solid
All of the above arguments identify real and significant challenges to the capital markets. Interest rates are at historic yields. The 40-year bull market in bonds does appear to be over. And stock valuations are extremely high.
Nevertheless, I believe the 60/40 portfolio is still ideal for retirees. It's not the only reasonably allocation in retirement, but it will continue to support a retiree for 30 years or more who relies on the 4% Rule. Here's why I believe this.
Argument #1: Retirees are long-term investors
Those who retire at a traditional age are long-term investors. For a 65-year-old couple, there is a 1-in-4 chance of at least one spouse living past 97 and a 1-in-10 chance of at least one spouse living to 100 (Source: BofA). Retirees could be in the market 35 years or longer. To put that number in perspective, 35 years ago Ronald Reagan was President and Boy George and Mr. T were filing an episode of The A-Team.
The point is that while both equities and bonds may underperform over the next several years, or decade, retirees must consider a much longer time horizon.
Of course, the first ten to 15 years of retirement are critical. Due to the sequence of returns and inflation risk, a devastating market in the first decade of retirement could spell disaster. And that brings us to the second point.
Argument #2: The 60/40 Portfolio has Worked Since 1871
No, that's not a typo. Researchers have tested the 60/40 portfolio against the 4% Rule with markets dating back to just after the Civil War. It's never failed.
Michael Kitces, CFP, published a paper showing the maximum initial withdrawal rate one could have taken in the first year of retirement without running out of money over a 30-year retirement. His research tested retirements beginning in 1871.
The lowest initial withdrawal rate was 4.4% in 1966. Some years could have seen an initial withdrawal rate of over 10%. The point is that a 60/40 portfolio has sustained a 30-year retirement through the aftermath of the Civil War, the Panic of 1893, WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, the stagflation of the 1970s, the tech bubble, 9/11, the Great Recession, and the ongoing Covid pandemic.
Argument #3: The 60/40 portfolio offers growth and stability
When compared to a portfolio heavily weighted in stocks, the 60/40 portfolio stands out for its excellent growth and muted volatility. That's not to say it's not volatile, but its up and downs are significantly less than a 100% stock portfolio. And that's precisely what many retirees need.
Since 1972, a 60/40 portfolio has returned an annual compound rate of 9.61%. These returns are lower than a 100% stock portfolio, which returned 10.75% over the same period. What's notable, however, is the volatility. The standard deviation of a 60/40 portfolio was just 9.51%, while the stock portfolio came in at 15.25%.
To put these differences in perspective, the worst year for a 100% stock portfolio during this period was -37.45%, compared to just -16.88% of the 60/40 portfolio. At the same time, the worst maximum drawdown for the stock portfolio was nearly -51%, compared to -28% for the balanced portfolio.
The increased volatility that comes with 100% stocks brings us to the next argument.
Argument #4: Retirees can stick with a 60/40 portfolio
Studies have shown that investors are not adept at timing the market. Called the investor gap, studies have documented the gap between an investment's return and an investor's return. Because investors tend to buy high when stocks are rising and to sell low in a panic when investments fall, they consistently underperform the very investments where they place their money.
One Morningstar study found that investors lost on average 45 basis points due to market timing. There was, however, one bright spot. The study found that investors in less volatile investments performed better. From the study,
When we broke down funds within asset classes based on their standard deviation, we found that funds in the least-volatile quintiles consistently had higher investor returns than those in more-volatile quintiles. This suggests that “boring” funds work well because they aren’t as likely to inspire fear or greed.
A portfolio with more stocks may perform better over the long-term. Investors in retirement, however, need to ask whether they can handle the ride.
Argument #5: The 60/40 portfolio survived rising rates and inflation
No two time periods are identical. Today we face challenges the U.S. and world have never faced. We can, however, look back at similar times to gain an understanding of how the 60/40 portfolio might perform when interest rates and inflation rise. Here I'm thinking of the period from 1941 to 1982.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury stood at 1.95% at the start of 1941. In 1982 it began the year north of 14%. Over the decade leading up to 1982, the U.S. experienced double-digit inflation, with low growth, giving way to the term stagflation.
During this time how did the 60/40 portfolio perform for retirees? Just fine. To be sure, this period is why we have the 4% rule. It represents the low water mark on a safe initial withdrawal rate. But that rate still stands at 4 to 4.5%.
The 60/40 portfolio also performed well more recently when rates began to rise earlier this year. The first quarter of 2021 was the worst for U.S. investment-grade bonds in the last two decades. The 60/40 portfolio did just fine:
“The first quarter of 2021 showed that even the worst quarter for U.S. investment-grade bonds in the last 20 years wasn't enough to derail the classic 60/40 portfolio”, says Jason Kephart.
So what’s the take for investors. As long as the correlation between traditional asset classes doesn’t shift dramatically and the portfolio continues to rise over time, then holding a 60/40 portfolio still makes sense.
That doesn’t mean investors shouldn't consider some alternative mixes but perhaps hold those on the margins and keep your core in stocks and bonds. Although, instead of holding broad indexes, they might want to consider diversifying by adding buckets of individual stocks and bonds.
At the end of the day, the most important risk any investor should always think about is the permanent loss of capital and the loss of purchasing power. The 60/40 portfolio still offers the best defence. And even it if did seem to veer off course at one point, it could have been by design.Source: https://www.morningstar.ca/ca/news/213154/does-the-60%2F40-portfolio-still-make-sense.aspx
Building a 60/40 Portfolio
So far we haven't discussed the stock and bond investments that make up a 60/40 portfolio. Most of the studies on a balanced portfolio use an S&P 500 index for stocks and intermediate term U.S. bond fund for fixed income. Given current economic challenges faced by retirees, should we further diversify our asset classes?
Warren Buffett would likely say no. The Warren Buffett portfolio he recommends consists of just two asset classes: S&P 500 index and short term U.S. government bonds. He's bullish on the future of the United States.
At the same time, the U.S. faces significant hurdles. Its population is aging, reducing the workforce while increasing the cost of social programs for senior citizens. The country's debt to GDP ratio skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic and now stands at more than 125% (Source: The Fed). And our politicians in Washington seem willing to continue borrowing at unprecedented levels indefinitely. Eventually we'll have to pay for all of this spending.
As a result, some financial advisors recommend moving beyond U.S. stocks and Treasuries. Bob Rice, the Chief Investment Strategist for Tangent Capital made such an argument when he spoke at the fifth annual Investment News conference for alternative investments.
“You cannot invest in one future anymore; you have to invest in multiple futures,” Rice said. “The things that drove 60/40 portfolios to work are broken. The old 60/40 portfolio did the things that clients wanted, but those two asset classes alone cannot provide that anymore. It was convenient, it was easy, and it's over. We don't trust stocks and bonds completely to do the job of providing income, growth, inflation protection, and downside protection anymore.”Source: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/financial-advisors/011916/why-6040-portfolio-no-longer-good-enough.asp
While I don't share his pessimistic views of the 60/40 portfolio, diversifying to international equities seems reasonable. This could include both developed countries and emerging markets. Other diversification opportunities could include real estate (REITs) and commodities. For bonds, some argue that retirees should take on more credit risk through high-yield bonds and emerging market debt.
Having said that, there's no guarantee that diversifying the portfolio will lead to better results. A well diversified portfolio has significantly underperformed a basic 60/40 portfolio over the last 15 years (commodities data wasn't available before 2007 in Portfolio Visualizer).
At the same time, if we remove commodities and add the 5% allocation back into the S&P 500, we extended the data to 1999 AND see that the greater diversification paid off.
Of course, this time period saw the tech bubble burst, 9/11 and the Great Recession, all of which had significant affects on the S&P 500. And that really is the point. While diversification is generally a sound approach to investing, it's not a guarantee of higher returns.
The 60/40 portfolio is certainly not the only reasonable approach to investing in retirement. Yet for many retirees, it has stood the test of time. It offers both growth and stability, which retirees need for their money to last 30 years or more.
Nobody knows the future. Is it possible that we could see unprecedented economic conditions that could wreck havoc on retirees? Of course we could. Although if that happens, one wonders if any asset allocation would save us.
How Much Cash Should Retirees Keep On Hand?
Moving from a regular paycheck to living off of your nest egg is not an easy transition. At least it hasn't been for me. One of the many decisions retirees must make is how much cash should they have in the bank.
For some it's a question of budgeting. They keep enough to pay the bills over the next several months, but that's it. For others cash acts as a buffer in the event the stock market drops 10%, 20% or more. For those who see cash as a buffer, several more questions need to be considered:
- How much cash should you keep in the bank?
- How do you decide when to replenish your spending account?
- Do you factor the amount of cash you have into your overall asset allocation?
In this article I'll explore these questions. We'll look at some research papers that address these questions. We'll also talk about how you can get the psychological benefits of holding lots of cash without actually holding lots of cash.
The starting for all of this is the 4% Rule. First, however, we need to cover the basics.
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What is Cash?
For our purposes, I define cash as money in an FDIC-insured account (checking, savings, money market account or possibly a certificate of deposit) or a money market fund. The later is not FDIC-insured, but it's extremely safe. U.S. government T-bills would also qualify as cash.
What I don't include in cash are bonds with durations of longer than one year.
What about Social Security, Pensions, Annuities, and Part-Time Work?
Retirees fund retirement from many sources. Most receive social security. Many have pensions or annuities. And some, myself included, still do part-time work to generate some income. All of these sources generate cash for us, typically on a monthly basis.
The question we are addressing is how much cash, over and above any cash these other sources generate, do we need to pull from our investments. In other words, how much do we need to pull from 401k, IRA and taxable accounts each month or year for living expenses.
These other sources will of course reduce how much we have to pull from our investments. But most of us have to pull something out, and that's what this article addresses.
The Budget-Dividend Strategy (My Preferred Approach)
My preferred approach to cash in retirement is what I call the Budget-Dividend Strategy. The nice thing about this approach is that it addresses three liquidity concerns at the same time:
- It guarantees that I'll always have cash on hand
- It helps with budgeting
- And it coincides with quarterly dividend payments, which can be used as a source of funds
Here's how the Budget-Dividend Strategy works.
At the start of the year I pull six months worth of living expenses from our investment accounts. In our case the money gets deposited into our checking account.
When the balance declines to three months of living expenses, we add cash to bring the balance back to the six months of expenses level. If we are generally on track with our budget, this should happen after three months.
The timing is convenient because ETFs and mutual funds typically pay dividends at the end of each quarter. In our taxable account, we do not automatically reinvest dividends. So once the dividends hit our money market fund in our brokerage account, I can move some or all of them over to our bank account.
If we need more than the dividends give us, I withdrawal additional funds from investment accounts. Here I make the decision on a number of factors, such as taxes and which asset classes have performed best.
Once we start taking Required Minimum Distributions (still two decades away), we'll use the RMD to fund living expenses as well.
Benefits of the Budget-Dividend Strategy
The are several benefits to this approach.
First, we keep the vast majority of our capital fully invested. Even assuming an initial 4% distribution per year, we never have more than 2% in cash (6 months of living expenses). And this number drops to 1% (3 months of living expenses) before we replenish the cash account.
Second, the timing of when we replenish the account coincides with distributions from ETFs and mutual funds. This isn't necessary, and may be irrelevant for those without significant taxable investments. But it's convenient for us.
Third, the approach also makes budgeting easier. We track our spending in Personal Capital and Tiller Money. This approach to cash, however, makes it easy to know at a glance if we are on track, over spending or under spending.
The No Cash Strategy
One approach to cash in retirement is virtually no cash at all. One could sell investments monthly to cover just one month of expenses. If most spending is put on a credit card, the no cash strategy could work.
Personally, I find the idea of tapping my investments monthly to be too much of nuisance. Still, it's worth pointing out that one could take this approach. For those who do, finding a broker that offers check writing, online bill pay, and perhaps even a debit card would be useful. Even here, however, you'd be transferring funds from stock and bond funds to a money market fund every 30 days, which many would find tiresome.
The Buffer Strategy
Our approach to cash keeps the vast majority of our assets fully invested. Some advocate a different approach called the Buffer Strategy. The idea is to keep as much as five years worth of living expenses in cash. The strategy has some initial appeal.
Over the past 100 years, the worst stock market performance saw a decline four years in a row (from 1929 to 1932). The market has never been down five years in a row.
Here's a chart of the S&P 500's yearly performance dating back to 1928:
Of course the market could be down 5 years in a row sometime in the future. But the idea of a cash cushion is to avoid selling stocks when the market is down. It has some intuitive appeal.
And it's a bad strategy.
First, if we rebalance our portfolio at least once a year, we won't sell stocks in a bear market. When the market is down significantly, the simple act of rebalancing will cause us to sell bonds and buy stocks. This is true even if bonds decline a bit.
For example, in 1931 the 10-year Treasury Bond was down 2.56%. The S&P 500 (or equivalent) was down more than 43%! In that scenario, we still be selling bonds to buy stocks as part of rebalancing.
Just as important, holding five years worth of cash creates a serious drag on our portfolio's performance. Let's make sure we understand why.
Cash and the 4% Rule
The 4% Rule comes from a 1994 paper written by financial planner Bill Bengen. Using historical returns and inflation data, Bengen tried to answer how much a retiree could spend each year without going broke.
His conclusion was that a retiree could spend 4% of his or her nest egg in the first year of retirement. Thereafter, they could increase this amount by the rate of inflation (he used CPI). Following this approach, he concluded, a retiree's nest egg would last at least 30 years, and in some cases 50 years or longer.
There were, however, some important underlying assumptions in his work. For example, he assumed retirees invested in an S&P 500 index fund for stocks and an intermediate U.S. government bond fund for bonds. He also concluded that stocks should represent 50 to 75% of a retiree's asset allocation. Any more and a big stock market decline (e.g., 1929 to 1932) would shorten the longevity of a portfolio. Any less and a return to double-digit inflation could do irreparable harm.
So what does this have to do with how much cash we should hold?
For his analysis, Bengen assumed that retiree withdrew funds from the portfolio once a year and then rebalanced. The rebalancing did not factor in the cash that was just taken from the portfolio. His focus was not on how much cash to hold. That's just the approach he chose for his analysis.
Nevertheless, it's important to keep his approach in mind. For those choosing to deviate from a once-a-year distribution strategy (at most) to hold significantly more cash, keep in mind that the conclusions from his research may not hold. And indeed, subsequent research confirms this outcome.
Research on the Buffer Strategy
Arguably the most comprehensive study comes from Professor Walter Woerheide, Ph.D., ChFC, CFP®. At the time of publication, he was the Frank M. Engle Distinguished Chair in Economic Security Research, at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
In 2012 Professor Woerheide published a paper entitled, Sustainable Withdrawal rates: The Historical Evidence on Buffer Zone Strategies. He evaluated cash buffers of one to four years, using a replenishing strategy based on whether the investment portfolio was up or down the previous years.
If the investments were up, the cash buffer was replenished along with any required withdrawals. If the portfolio was down, withdrawals came from the cash buffer. The only time cash came from the investment portfolio following a down market was if the cash buffer were exhausted.
Looking at several different asset allocations, the results were clear. A cash buffer strategy underperforms a standard rebalancing approach. It reduces the likelihood that a portfolio will last 30 years. It also reduces the portfolio's balance at death.
Here's a summary of his findings:
Several other studies have confirmed these results:
- Cash reserve buffers, withdrawal rates and old wives’ fables for retirement portfolios
- Research Reveals Cash Reserve Strategies Don’t Work… Unless You’re A Good Market Timer?
- Cash Buffers, Sustainable Withdrawal and Bear Markets
Harold Evensky is the father of the bucket strategy. He's also a proponent of the Buffer Strategy for cash. In 2021 he co-authored a paper (The Benefits of a Cash Reserve Strategy in Retirement Distribution Planning) that concluded a cash buffer equal to one year of expenses actually improved the likelihood that a portfolio could be sustained for at least 30 years. His study is the outlier and deserves a brief comment.
He found the a 1-year buffer strategy (he called it the Cash Flow Reserve or CFR) out performed a standard rebalancing approach (RDCA–Reverse Dollar Cost Averaging), particularly with taxes and transaction costs were factored in. Here's a summary of his findings:
There are several serious flaws in the study.
First, it used a 1-year cash buffer that was allowed to fall to just two months. As a practical matter, that's no cash buffer at all.
Second, he used a Monte Carlo simulations instead of historical data. In and of itself this isn't a problem, but the inputs he used heavily favored cash. He assumed an average stock return of 8.75%, well below the historical average. He also assumed a 3.5% return on cash with a 3.0% rate of inflation. This gave cash a 0.50% real return.
In other words, the study was designed to reach a certain conclusion, in my opinion. The fact is that a significant cash cushion represents a significant drag on performance that hurts retirees in the long run.
How to Sleep at Night with Little Cash in the Bank
While it's clear that the Buffer Strategy underperforms, we need to address the psychology factors. As someone who is semi-retired, I understand firsthand the fear of spending investments. That fear grows when the stock market drops as it did at the start of the Covid pandemic.
To address this real concern, here are a few approaches retirees can take that won't do as much harm as holding too much cash.
First, calculate how long you can live on just your bonds. If you have a 60/40 stock/bonds allocation, for example, you can live on just the bonds for about 10 years, assuming an initial 4% withdrawal.
This approach assumes your bonds are primarily U.S. government short and intermediate-term bonds. Riskier bonds, such as high-yield or emerging market debt might not provide as much comfort. The point is that recolonizing just how long your bond portfolio can get you may help you weather a stock market decline.
Second, and related to the first, is to allocate some of your bonds to cash. For most this would mean a money market fund. For example, a 60/40 portfolio would become a 60/30/10 portfolio (stocks/bonds/cash). Studies have found that converting some of the bonds to cash doesn't have a major effect on the longevity of the portfolio.
Bill Bengen actually reached this conclusion in a 1997 paper. He found that a 10% allocation to short-term U.S. Treasury Bills did not significantly reduce the starting safe withdrawal rate of about 4%. Others have reached similar conclusions (see here and here).
Investing during retirement can be stressful. Still, we need to resist the urge to play it “safe” by holding too much cash. What may feel safe could over time do far more harm than good. A simple approach of three to six months in cash keeps are capital invested while still giving us ample room to do with unexpected expenses.
How Investment Fees Affect Wealth
It costs money to invest. We pay all types of fees, some obvious, some not so obvious. In this article I'm going to walk through the most common investing fees you are likely to encounter. Then we'll examine just how destructive a seemingly small amount of fees can be to your wealth and retirement.
Table of contents
Do Fees Really Matter?
Before looking at specific types of investment fees, let's first ask whether fees really matter. To answer that question, the first thing we must recognize is that seemingly small fees, over time, can seriously reduce the value of an investment portfolio.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published a paper on this very topic in 2014. It noted that “fees may seem small, but over time they can have a major impact on your investment portfolio.”
Some have argued that fees don't matter. Instead, what matters are returns after factoring in the fees. In other words, paying high fees is not only fine, but ideal, if the investment returns enough to justify the fees. Conceptually this makes sense. In practice, however, it falls apart.
Study after study after study shows that expensive investments underperform inexpensive investments. For example, Vanguard looked at the annualized returns for a 10 year period ending December 31, 2014 for two groups of mutual funds: 25% of the funds with the lowest expense ratio and 25% with the highest. The low-cost funds won.
The primary way we keep fees down, as we'll discuss more below, is to use low-cost index ETFs and mutual funds. It's an approach Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and arguable the best investor alive today, supports:
Nevertheless, both individuals and institutions will constantly be urged to be active by those who profit from giving advice or effecting transactions. The resulting frictional costs can be huge and, for investors in aggregate, devoid of benefit. So ignore the chatter, keep your costs minimal, and invest in stocks as you would in a farm.
My money, I should add, is where my mouth is: What I advise here is essentially identical to certain instructions I’ve laid out in my will. One bequest provides that cash will be delivered to a trustee for my wife’s benefit. . . . My advice to the trustee could not be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.) I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors – whether pension funds, institutions or individuals – who employ high-fee managers.
Types of Investment Fees
There are countless fees investors may encounter. I'm going to list them in the order you are more likely to encounter them. Some fees are virtually unavoidable, but can be kept to a minimum. Other fees should be avoided at virtually all costs. Frankly, the only fee that is truly unavoidable is the first one on our list–expense ratio.
Mutual funds and ETFs charge investors a fee. The fee covers the cost of the fund, including payroll, as well as profit for the fund company. Expense ratios are expressed as a percentage. For example, a fund that charges a one percent (1%) expense ratio would cost an investor 1% of the amount invested in the fund (e.g., $100,000 investment would cost $1,000 per year with a 1% expense ratio).
The expense ratio is practically unavoidable. Fidelity does offer a few funds with no expense ratio, but that's the exception. Even low-cost fund provider Vanguard charges expense ratios on its ETFs and mutual funds.
There can be costs to buy and sell stocks, mutual funds and ETFs. By and large these costs are easy to avoid. Most mutual fund companies and brokers have gone to $0 trades if made online. There is, however, one important exception.
Many brokers charge a commission when you purchase a mutual fund (not an ETF). For example, I have an account at Merrill Edge, and the broker charges $19.95 when I purchase certain mutual funds. They do have a list of fee-free funds, but many of the funds I use from Vanguard would require payment of the commission.
For this reason, it's important to understand the types of investments you want to make before choosing a broker. If you know, for example, that you'll invest entirely in Vanguard funds, it makes sense to open an account at Vanguard or a broker that offers at a minimum free Vanguard ETFs. M1 Finance is a good example and a broker I also use.
Investment Advisor Fees
Advisor fees come in two forms: (1) a percentage of assets under management (AUM), or (2) a fixed or hourly fee. The vast majority of advisors charge a percentage of AUM, with 1% the industry standard (although fees do vary based on account size and services provided).
Some lower cost AUM advisors have entered the market over the past 10 years or so. Vanguard offers advisory services for just 30 basis points. A number of so called robo-advisors offer their services for about 25 basis points (e.g., Betterment and Wealthfront).
A growing list of advisors have turned to hourly or fixed fees. These arrangements almost always favor the client, as the total cost is generally far less than the AUM model. One such advisor is Mark Zoril of PlanVision.
As you'll see in a minute, Advisor fees based on a percentage of AUM destroy more wealth than any other fee (although high expense ratios are a close second).
Some mutual funds charge what are called load fees. Front-end load fees are paid when you invest in a mutual fund with this type of fee; Back-end load fees when you sell.
Front-end load fees typically cost 5.75%. For every $100 invested, fees take $5.75, leaving $94.25 in your account. There's absolutely no reason to invest in mutual funds that charge load fees. Ever!
Where to Find the Expense Ratio of a Mutual Fund
There are several easy ways to find the expense ratio of any mutual fund or ETF. For starts, you can Google the ticker symbol of the fund. VSTAX, for example, is Vanguards total stock market fund. Searching “VSTAX” returns the following result, including the fund's expense ratio:
You can also see if a fund charges a load fee AGTHX, an American Funds growth fund:
Another free tool that tracks both the expense ratio as well as any load fees is Morningstar. You can also check the prospectus of the funed.
As for investment advisor fees, you should ask. It's as simple as that. It should also be reflected on your statements. You can also find fee disclosures in the advisor's Form ADV. But asking is much easier.
How to Determine the Expense Ratio of Your Investment Portfolio
While it's important to know the expense ratio of each investment, what really matters is the overall expense ratio of your portfolio. You could calculate this by hand. Just take the weighted average of your expense ratios across all of your investments. If that sounds as inviting as a root canal, there is an easier way. Use Empower.
Empower is a free financial dashboard. Link all your financial accounts (checking, savings, credit cards, retirement accounts, HSAs, loans, taxable investments) and Empower provides a wealth of tools. You can do everything from budgeting to loan payoff to retirement planning. And for our purposes, it will automatically calculate the expense ratio of your investment portfolio.
Here's the results from a demo portfolio I entered into Empower:
Note the 0.10% annual fee to the right. That's the expense ratio of a portfolio that included dozens of investments. You can read my review of Empower or go directly to its free signup page (truly free-no credit card needed–ever).
How Fees Affect Your Wealth
Let's imagine that we make the maximum contribution to an IRA ($6,000) during our working years from age 20 to 65. If we earn an average of a 9% return on our investments, we'll retire with about $3.1 million (gotta love compounding).
Now let's assume we pay an investment advisor a “small” 1% fee. Our retirement fund drops to $2.3 million. Add in a 1% expense ratio on the mutual funds, and our nest egg falls further to $1.7 million. Yeah, fees matter.
How to Avoid Most Investment Fees
There are several important steps to take to keep you fees low.
Low cost index funds: First, stick to low cost index funds (ETFs or mutual funds). They outperform the vast majority of actively managed funds over time. There are plenty of sound “lazy portfolios” that make for great long-term investment strategies. Here are a few of them:
Avoid Expensive Advisors: There's simply no good reason to pay more than about 0.30% of AUM, at the most. Vanguard offers its services at this price. Why pay more? And there are plenty of advisors who charged by the hour, which is even better.
Consider Automated Investment Services: For those that want a little help, you can consider a robo advisor. They come in all shapes and sizes. I like Betterment and Wealthfront for those who want a set-it-and-forget-it arrangement. Cost is about 25 basis points. For those who want more control, M1 Finance is the way to go. It lets you create your own mutual fund (they call them Pies). It's easy to use, easy to rebalance, and free.
Empower Review and User’s Guide (Update for 2023)
Empower is a financial tool that enables you to manage 100% of your finances from a single dashboard. Previously called Personal Capital, I've used the app for years. In this Empower review and user's guide, I'll walk through all of its features and how to leverage them to help you make the most of your money.
- Retirement Planner
- Savings Planner
- Retirement Fee Analyzer
- Investment Fee Checkup
This article contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. The opinions and views expressed, however, are our own.
Getting Started with Empower
The first step is to sign up for a free account. Then you want to connect all of your financial accounts. While Empower is perhaps best known for analyzing and tracking investments, I also connect all of my bank accounts, credit cards, loans, mortgage, and even my home. You can add your home and Empower will pull in the value from Zillow.
Linking Your Accounts
Over the years I've linked may of the following types of accounts to Empower:
- Bank Accounts (checking, savings, CDs, money market accounts)
- Retirement Accounts (401k, 403b, TSP, IRA, among others)
- Non-Retirement Investment Accounts
- Credit Cards
- Student Loans
- Personal Loans
You can link just about any financial account for which you have online access. You'll need your username and password for each account. To link an account, you'll search for the name of your financial institution in the “Link Your Account” dialog box on Empower (you get to it by clicking the “+” icon near the top left of the Dashboard):
Tip: You can search by the name of your financial institution or by its website address (URL). In the unlikely event you have a financial account that can't be linked to Empower, you can enter it manually.
So why bother to connect all of your accounts? As you'll see below, Empower does a lot more than keep an eye on your investments. By connecting all of your financial accounts, you can track your net worth, budget, cash flow, and even your bills. And all of this information is pulled together in a Dashboard.
Settings & Profile
Once you've linked your accounts, it's critical that you complete your Settings and Profile. Both can be found by clicking on your name in the top right corner of the screen.
With Settings, you have control over email subscriptions (you can get daily or weekly updates of all your income, spending and investments), whether to include investment income and dividends in cash flow (I do), and any accounts to exclude from the advice Empower offers (I don't exclude any).
Settings also include important security features. It's here that you can configure multi-factor authentication (highly recommended) and an alert anytime a login is attempted from a foreign country (also highly recommended).
Empower also shows you a list of the devices you've authorized to access your account and when the last sign-on from that device occurred. I'll often delete old devices I no longer use from this list.
The Profile is where you can set information about you and your spouse, your savings, income sources, and investment objectives. These are important settings that Empower uses in its planning tools, such as its free Retirement Planner.
Once you've linked all of your accounts, Empower aggregates it in the Dashboard. The Dashboard gives you a snapshot of your entire financial picture. Here's what the dashboard looks like:
As you can see, it gives you a snapshot of your net worth, your monthly budget, your cash flow, your investments, and even where you are on your retirement and emergency savings goals.
There's nothing more important to your financial freedom than racking your net worth. While I'm a big believer in keeping tabs on it in a spreadsheet (which I've done for years), I also track it in Empower. If you connect all of your financial accounts, it's tracked automatically.
Here's what the Net Worth screen looks like in Empower:
I'm surprised at how much I use the banking features of Empower. The primary features that I rely on are the Cash Flow and Budgeting functions. Specifically, the tool shows me how much investment income we generate each month (interest and dividends). The budget tool shows me how much we spent and on what by category.
Cash flow shows both your income and expenses at a transaction level. Expenses are automatically categorized. You can easily drill down into income or expenses to look at the details.
You can also select which accounts to include in the report. I use this account selection feature to look at just my business expenses (I've connected by business checking and credit card accounts). I also use it to look at income just from my investment accounts. This allows me to quickly see all dividends and interest earned in my portfolio.
The budgeting feature is not a traditional budgeting app. You can set an overall monthly spending goal, but you can't set goals by category. If that's what you need, I highly recommend YNAB (You Need a Budget).
What Empower does well is give you visibility into how you've spent your money by category. It automatically imports all spending from each linked account and categorizes the spending. You can customize the categories. I've found Empower to do a reasonably good job of getting the categories right, although I do spend about 5 minutes a month correcting some transactions.
Tip: In addition to categories, you can tag transactions, too. I use a limited number of categories, and than tag transactions as needed. For example, we have a home maintenance category. For work on our pool, I tag those transactions as “pool” so I can see how much we spend on the pool without need to create a separate categori.
The bills feature is another reason to link your credit cards, mortgage, and other loans. Empower keeps track of when bills are due with your linked accounts. This helps you avoid missed or late payments, and it helps with planning throughout the month.
Here's where Empower really shines. Once you've connected your retirement and non-retirement accounts, it tracks your investments automatically. It updates prices throughout the trading day and keeps tabs on mutual fund expenses. It also shows you your asset allocation and offers a number of tools to help you evaluate your portfolio
You get an overview of each of your holdings. The tool shows the following for each investment you own:
- The name of each investment
- Its ticker
- How many shares you own
- The current price
- The days change (in both dollars and as a percentage)
- The total value
It also gives you an overview of your performance. Here's mine in the middle of the 2020 bear market (Yikes!):
EMpower also shows you your asset allocation. It automatically evaluates your investments and reports on your stock/bond allocation. For each it breaks down asset classes further, showing U.S. and International stocks and bonds, as well as alternatives.
The tool also provides a useful interactive graphic representation of your portfolio allocation. With the click of a mouse, you can explore what investments make up each of these asset classes. One interesting item is cash. The asset allocation tool not only shows you the cash in say money market accounts, but it also sees the cash held by stock mutual funds.
Tracking Bitcoin & Crypto
In big news for those who invest in Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and other cryptocurrencies, Empower can now track these investments. Best of all, investors do not need to grant access to their crypto wallets or turn over passwords.
Instead, investors can add a manual account in Empower. For each token owned, you simply indicate the symbol, exchange, and amount. Empower is now able to track thousands of tokens across hundreds of exchanges.
So far the dashboard has simply shown you your accounts and investments from various perspectives. It's the planning tools that really take the tool to the next level.
Empower's retirement planner is both robust and easy to use. Because you've connected all of your investment accounts, Empower can use this data to determine your retirement readiness. The screenshot below shows you what the calculator looks like once you've linked your accounts.
There's a lot going on here, so let's break it down:
- Profile: In the bottom right of the above screenshot is the “Edit Profile” button. It's here that you can set your marital status, tax filing status, you and your spouse's name and dates of birth, how much you each earn per year, and any children you have.
- Assumptions: The “Edit Assumptions” button enables you to set an estimate of your effective tax rate, inflation rate, and your life expectancy.
- Income Events: You can add ongoing or one-time income events. These may include your yearly savings, a planned sale of a business or other asset, pension income you'll receive in retirement, and even an estimate of your social security.
- Spending Goals: Spending goals can include an estimate of your yearly spending in retirement as well as one-time expenses. For example, you could include the cost of a planned vacation in retirement or the cost of a future wedding for your children.
- Retirement Score: Your retirement score shows a percentage representing the likelihood that your money will last through retirement. According to Empower, a score of 50% to 80% “suggests you are on track, but it is important to understand and acknowledge that the portfolio does deplete in a meaningful amount of the projected scenarios.” A score above 90% means “there is relatively little to worry about and, most likely, you could afford greater spending now or it will be possible to increase spending over time.”
- Graph Views: The graph above shows the portfolio based on an analysis of thousands of potential market returns. You can also view your accounts by asset location (i.e., Taxable, Tax Deferred and Tax Free.
The Retirement Planner also enables you to create multiple scenarios and then compare them. For example, one scenario may have you retiring at a traditional age, while another one has you retiring early. In one, you may include an estimate of social security, while in another one you exclude it. You could also change the assumptions on one scenario related to your effective tax rate, future inflation, or your life expectancy.
Once you've created a new scenario, you can then compare them side-by-side.
The Savings Planner is three tools in one: Retirement Savings, Emergency Fund Savings, and Debt Paydown. Each enables you to set and track goals.
Retirement Savings Planner
Here you can set an annual retirement savings goal. The planner tracks your actual savings throughout the year, including your contributions to retirement accounts like 401k and IRAs. It will also track any savings you have in taxable accounts.
Keep in mind that this planner and your Retirement Planner are connected. If you change your savings goal in one, it automatically updates the other.
Emergency Fund Savings Planner
For the Emergency Fund, Empower totals the value of all of your linked bank accounts. It then recommends an Emergency Fund of 3 to 6 months worth of expenses based on the budget amount that you set. As with the retirement planner, any changes in your monthly budgeted amount here automatically updates your Budget in the Banking section of Empower.
Debt Paydown Planner
Any debts, including car loans, mortgages and personal loans, will show up in the Debt Paydown planner. Note that credit card debt will also show up in the planner if there have been at least two interest transactions within the last 90 days. In other words, your credit cards will not show up here if you pay them off in full each month, thereby avoiding interest charges.
The planner will show each debt, along with its interest rate (APR), change in balance year to date, and current balance. It also displays a graph of the changing in debt balances in the current year.
Retirement Fee Analyzer
The retirement fee analyzer is, I must confess, my favorite part of Empower. It's easy to dismiss relatively “small” investment fees as unimportant. The problem, of course, is the effect fees have on your wealth over decades of time. A 1% advisor or mutual fund fee may seem small, but over time it can literally cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Empower calculates a weighted average expense ratio for all of your linked accounts. Mine comes in at just 6 basis points–0.06%. That's well below the average, and yet it will still cost me $17,865 over the next seven years according to the Fee Analyzer!
Fees matter–a lot. This tool by itself makes Empower a must.
Investment Fee Checkup
The investment checkup evaluates your asset allocation and compares it to what Empower recommends. Based on your investment profile, Empower recommends an asset allocation. Here's what it recommends for me, given my age, years to retirement, and risk tolerance:
My actual allocation has about 5% more bonds than what the above graphic shows. What's interesting about this tool is that Empower also shows you the historical performance of its recommended portfolio, future projections, risk & return and a comparison with your actual allocation.
If you want to follow the recommendation, Empower provides a listing of those asset classes that need to increased, decreased and by how much.
Is Empower safe?
Yes. Empower encrypts data with AES-256 with multi-layer key management, including rotating user-specific keys and salts. Further, no individual at Empower has access to your credentials.
In addition, you must authenticate each device that accesses your account. You'll receive an automated phone call, email or text message to confirm your identity. You can learn more about Empower's security here.
Is Empower really free?
Yep. Its investment services are not, but its financial tools are completely free.
Will Empower call me?
Yes. They use the financial dashboard as a marketing tool. I've spoken with their advisors in the past, although I've never used the investment services. If you don't want them to call you, just tell them. They honored my request.
Do I have to invest with Empower to use the dashboard?
How much does Empower cost?
The financial dashboard is free. If you do want to use their investment advisory services, the fees start at 0.89% for the first $1 million and go down to 0.49% for amounts over $10 million.
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