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Wondering How Much to Contribute to Your 401(k)? 8 Things to Consider

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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It’s easy to overlook the details of your 401(k) plan when you start a new job — there’s the excitement of learning the ropes, bringing in a fatter paycheck and finding the quiet bathroom.

Unfortunately, neglecting your 401(k) contributions can have a serious effect on your future. That’s because the money you invest early in your career has decades to grow, so even the most modest contributions can become an impressive nest egg with compound interest.

Even if you’re aware that you need to contribute to your 401(k), it can be tough to decide how much, especially if you have competing financial priorities. Here are eight factors to consider when deciding how much to contribute to your 401(k).

1. Know the IRS limits on 401(k) contributions

Your 401(k) plan is a tax-deferred retirement account, which means you deduct your contributions from your annual income at tax time. This also is described as funding your account with pre-tax dollars.

Since Uncle Sam won’t immediately see any taxes on the money you set aside, the IRS sets 401(k) contribution limits to prevent individuals from using their 401(k) accounts as vehicles to dodge taxes on large sums of money. In 2020, the employee contribution limit is $19,500 for participants who are under age 50.

If you are in a position to afford a $19,500 annual contribution, you should plan to send $1,625 per month ($19,500/12 = $1,625) to your 401(k) and call it day. If you’re a mere mortal with bills to pay, you’ll need to use other strategies to maximize your 401(k) contribution.

2. Take advantage of company matching

Many employers offer to match 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount. For instance, your company might offer to match 50% of your contributions up to 6%. This means that if you contribute 6% of your salary to your 401(k), your company will put in 3%, giving you 9% in total contributions.

“Your first goal should be to contribute enough to get the company match. This can be difficult if you’re just starting out, but saving has to be a little bit painful,” explained Jim Blankenship, a certified financial planner and the principal of Blankenship Financial Planning in New Berlin, Ill.

If contributing enough to reach the full company match is unaffordable, Blankenship recommended that you increase your contribution every time you get a raise or set up an automatic increase of 0.5% or 1% every six months. That will help you ease into contributing enough to get the match without feeling the bite all at once.

Another important thing to remember is that your employer’s contributions on your behalf don’t count toward your $19,500 contribution limit. Your employer may contribute as much as $37,500 to your 401(k) in 2020.

3. Contribution goals should not be static

It’s not a good idea to adopt a “set it and forget it” attitude when it comes to your contributions. “Your goals should evolve over time. Even if your initial goal is to get the full company match, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels once you get there,” warned Blankenship.

He recommended that you eventually max out the annual IRS contribution limits or put aside 20% of your annual salary — whichever is feasible. For instance, a worker earning $35,000 per year probably will not be able to afford the $19,500 401(k) contribution limit. However, setting aside $7,000 per year may be an achievable goal.

4. Make sure you understand vesting

While the company match is an excellent perk, it’s important to remember that the matching amount is not necessarily yours the moment it appears in your account. You will have to wait to be vested before you can consider that money yours in retirement.

In many cases, vesting is graduated over time. For instance, you might be vested in 20% of your company’s match after one year, 40% after two years and so on until you are 100% vested after five years of employment.

If you separate from the company prior to becoming 100% vested, then you will lose the nonvested amount. Unfortunately, this is true whether you quit, get fired or get laid off. The good news is that your own contributions are completely vested, so any money you personally put away is yours to keep no matter what happens to the company match or your employment status with the company.

5. 401(k) contributions are pre-tax

While you crunch the numbers to determine how much you can contribute to your retirement account, don’t forget that your take-home pay will not be reduced by the full amount of your contribution. Since your contribution is taken from your pre-tax salary, contributions effectively lower your annual salary, which means your tax withholding for each paycheck also will go down. So for each $100 you contribute to your 401(k), you’ll see less than $100 deducted from your take-home pay.

6. 401(k) vs. debt vs. emergency fund: how to prioritize

Most people have a number of competing financial needs, making it difficult to understand how to prioritize where your money goes. Should you build your emergency fund, focus on maxing out your 401(k) contributions or pay down debt to avoid losing money on high interest rates?

“Your top priority should be building an emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of unavoidable expenses,” said Blankenship. “Unavoidable expenses means true bare-bones minimum: rent or mortgage, car payment, utilities and groceries. You don’t need to recreate your usual monthly spending, just the amount you would need to get by.”

Once that is in place, Blankenship recommended paying the minimum amount on your debt to prioritize getting the company match on your 401(k). Credit card debt or other high-interest debt should take priority over student loan debt; however, you can work on paying down your debt while contributing to your retirement account.

7. Review the details of your 401(k) plan

How much you contribute to your employer 401(k) may depend on how good the plan is. Blankenship recommended looking at the portfolios offered by your 401(k) to determine if it’s a good low-cost investing environment for your money.

“You should educate yourself on what makes for a good diversified portfolio, and there are a number of resources online that will help you do an analysis of your potential portfolio,” he said. In particular, Blankenship recommended Yahoo Finance.

Blankenship also recommended opening an individual retirement account (IRA) if your 401(k) isn’t up to snuff. You should keep contributing to your 401(k) up to your company match; however, any contributions beyond that should go toward your IRA to take advantage of lower fees or a more diversified portfolio.

8. Determine your desired retirement age

It can be hard to think about retirement when you’re in the thick of your career, but it’s a good idea to do some basic calculations to determine how much you will need, even if retirement is decades away.

Not only will you have a better sense of what you need to set aside to reach your goals, but thinking about what you want from your future makes those goals feel more immediate (which also makes it easier and more satisfying to save money).

The takeaway

The precise amount to send to your 401(k) will depend on a number of factors. Meeting your company match and creating savings goals that evolve over time will help ensure you have a robust retirement account when you need it.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken |

Emily Guy Birken is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here

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Betterment Review 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Robo-advisor Betterment uses exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and a high degree of automation to manage your portfolio. In addition, it’s possible to speak with financial professionals to receive more tailored advice on retirement and other financial goals.

Investors most likely to benefit from Betterment include beginning investors hoping for a low barrier to entry, as well as intermediate investors who are interested in keeping a portion of their portfolio in set-it-and-forget-it accounts. Investors interested in trading individual stocks or taking a more hands-on approach aren’t likely to benefit as much from Betterment.

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The bottom line: Betterment is great for investors looking to get started with minimum fuss — and who aren’t interested in active trading.

  • Easy to get started
  • Set up different investing goals
  • Benefit from tax optimization

Who should consider Betterment

Betterment is for investors who would like an automated approach to investing. Anyone can benefit from Betterment, but it’s especially helpful for beginner investors hoping to start growing their wealth.

Because of the low barrier to entry — there are no account minimums and you can get started with a minimum deposit of $10 — it’s possible for almost anyone to begin investing.

It’s also a great resource for intermediate investors looking to accomplish different goals with “buckets” of money. With Betterment, it’s possible to set varying levels of risk for different goals, with different asset allocations based on when you’re likely to need the money.

Finally, intermediate and advanced traders can use Betterment to build a long-term retirement portfolio, although there is no active trading. Betterment offers a place for assets to grow over longer periods at a pace that is likely to track the market as a whole.

Consider your goals and what you hope to accomplish with your investment portfolio. While Betterment can potentially be a good choice for anyone who keeps a portion of their portfolio in long-term assets, it’s not ideal for those who prefer to actively manage their portfolios or engage in active trading.

Betterment fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $0
Management fees
  • 0.25% for Digital offering (no minimum account balance)
  • 0.40% for Premium offering ($100,000 minimum account balance)
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Current promotions

Three months free for new customers who are referred by an existing Betterment account holder

Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Trust
Portfolio
  • 12 asset classes represented in ETF portfolio
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Offers fractional shares
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, Email

Betterment management fees

Betterment’s pricing starts with a 0.25% management fee for the basic Digital account. This pricing is in line with other robo-advisors like Wealthfront, which also charges 0.25%.

Balances above $100,000 earn Betterment’s Premium account status, featuring unlimited access to personalized advice for a management fee of 0.40%. This isn’t out of line with other robo-advisors: Wealthsimple charges 0.40% for account balances above $100,000. Wealthfront, however, maintains the 0.25% management fee, no matter the size of your account. Once your balance reaches $2 million, your fee drops to 0.15%.

In addition to regular management fees, it’s also important to note that you’ll pay expense ratios on the ETFs Betterment selects on your behalf. Betterment’s recommended portfolios feature expense ratios of 0.07% to 0.15%. According to Betterment, this is much lower than the industry average.

Finally, there are additional fees if you want access to specialized financial planning. If you have $100,000 or more invested with Betterment, you get access to these services as part of your annual management fee. However, if your balance is lower, you pay a flat fee for financial advice ranging between $199 and $299 per advisory session.

Betterment portfolio options and portfolio management

Betterment chooses an investment portfolio for you based on your goals and time horizon. The core portfolio includes stock and bond ETFs allocated in a way that helps you reach your goals. It’s also possible to tweak your asset allocation in your account.

In addition, Betterment offers different portfolio options based on specific goals and targets. Here are some of the additional choices available with Betterment:

  • Socially Responsible Investing (SRI): This portfolio focuses on reducing exposure to companies that have a negative social impact. The expense ratio is a little higher with these portfolios, around 0.14% to 0.22%, depending on the allocation within the portfolio.
  • BlackRock Target Income Portfolio: Aimed at retirees, this portfolio is designed to provide a regular income stream. The portfolio focuses on bond investments that offer dividends that can be used for income rather than focusing on principal and capital appreciation.
  • Goldman Sachs Smart Beta Portfolio: Rather than using basic asset allocation principles, this portfolio focuses on assets that possess four characteristics considered to drive performance — strong momentum, good value, low volatility and high quality. It’s possible to adjust this portfolio in 101 different ways.

With all portfolios, Betterment handles automatic rebalancing when your assets experience a certain amount of drift. For example, if market performance is resulting in an asset allocation that is too far outside the target for your portfolio, Betterment will sell and buy different assets to bring your portfolio back to its target.

Another way Betterment automatically manages your portfolio is by using tax optimization strategies. Different assets are assigned to your accounts based on their overall tax efficiency. Additionally, when certain assets lose value, Betterment will sell them automatically in an effort to offset capital gains in other areas. With the help of the Tax Loss Harvesting+ feature, rebalancing can occur daily.

Betterment financial planning features

If you want a big-picture view of your finances, Betterment’s account sync feature can be helpful. With this feature, you connect some or all of your outside accounts to Betterment, which lets you view all of your financial information in one place. The app then offers personalized recommendations for managing your money.

You have the option to speak with Betterment financial professionals about planning for specific goals and life milestones. Account holders above the $100,000 balance requirement get unlimited access to personalized advice and help by phone and email as part of the management fee.

If you don’t meet this threshold, you can pay for advice packages tailored to the goals you’re working on. Here are some of the Betterment advice packages available for a flat fee:

  • Getting Started: A 45-minute phone call with a certified financial planner (CFP) who can provide step-by-step help setting up a Betterment account that helps you maximize a variety of goals. Price: $199.
  • Financial Checkup: Get a review of your investment portfolio and how it fits into your financial situation in a 60-minute call with a Certified Financial Planner. Price: $299.
  • College Planning: Aimed at families who want help getting set up for college costs and using higher education plans. It consists of a 60-minute phone call that can help you review your choices and decide what’s best for you. Price: $299.
  • Marriage Planning: Planning to tie the knot soon? Get help as you navigate goals, priorities and merging finances in a 60-minute phone call. Price: $299.
  • Retirement Planning: Set up a 60-minute holistic review of your portfolio, current situation and more that can help you make better decisions for your retirement. Price: $299.

The Betterment Advisor Network can also help you get your own dedicated financial advisor who can help you with almost any financial need. Betterment will help match you with a professional who is likely to fit your goals and priorities.

Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve Account

Betterment offers Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured banking options. While the checking account isn’t universally available yet, it is possible to use Everyday Cash Reserve to earn up to 1.78% APY. Additionally, there are no limits on withdrawals and no minimum balance. You also don’t have to worry about paying fees on your balance. The money in your Everyday Cash Reserve account is actually held at partner banks — it’s possible to opt out of a specific partner bank, if you wish.

In addition to providing a high-yield savings option, you can also decide to use the Two-Way Sweep feature. With this feature, Betterment automatically analyzes a connected account each day and will move excess cash from your connected account and into your savings account. If you need the money back in your main account, Betterment will sweep it from your Everyday Cash Reserve account without the need to take further action on your part.

Strengths of Betterment

Betterment is always adding new goals and features. Here are some of the most helpful features it currently offers:

  • Tax optimization: Betterment uses tax loss harvesting to help offset taxes on your gains. The company also uses its Tax-Coordinated Portfolio to give you the maximum tax benefit. Certain assets are assigned to your IRA, while others are kept in your taxable accounts.
  • Betterment Everyday: Betterment now offers FDIC-insured checking and savings accounts. While the checking product is still in the roll-out stages, it’s possible to earn up to 1.78% APY with Everyday Cash Reserve.
  • Set up different goals: One of Betterment’s most useful features is the ability to set up different goals. It’s possible to have a traditional IRA and a rollover IRA, as well as open a Roth IRA. It’s also possible to open taxable accounts for a variety of other goals. Set different asset mixes for each type of account and adjust what you add simply and easily.
  • Chance to talk to a human: Betterment offers customer service by phone in addition to email. However, you can also speak with a financial professional with packages starting at $199, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s also possible to be matched with an advisor if you meet the requirements for access to the Betterment Advisor Network.
  • Portfolio projection tools: Set goals with the help of Betterment’s projection tools and track your progress toward reaching your objectives. Betterment offers insight into whether you’re on track with your goals as well as graphs to help you visualize the potential of your portfolio.

Drawbacks of Betterment

While Betterment is a great choice for many investors, it’s not for everyone. There are some drawbacks, and no Betterment review would be complete without mentioning them.

  • No active trading: If you’re interested in choosing your own investments and actively trading, you won’t be able to do that with Betterment. While you can do a little more self-directed investing with a Premium account, the reality is that you’re mostly limited to choosing your prefered asset mix rather than picking individual investments.
  • Lack of 529 and education savings accounts (ESAs): There are no custodial accounts with Betterment, and you can’t set up a 529 or ESA to save for your child’s education. A similar robo-investing company that does offer a 529 is Wealthfront.

Is Betterment safe?

Anytime you invest, there is a chance you could lose money. Poor market conditions can always lead to a loss. However, Betterment’s use of modern portfolio theory in its asset allocation helps reduce your exposure to risk. Additionally, Betterment carries Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance, protecting each of your Betterment accounts up to $500,000 in the event of a failure by the company. (Note that market losses aren’t covered by SIPC insurance.)

In addition to making sure an investment company is SIPC-insured, you also can use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck to find out about disclosures and actions, and search the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database. The Better Business Bureau is also a good source of information.

Final thoughts

Betterment is a great choice for beginner investors looking to get their feet wet and for long-term investors hoping to grow a retirement portfolio. For investors with more than $100,000, it can also be a decent place to keep your money if you’re looking for basic advice.

However, for active traders and those who want a little more control over their assets, Betterment might not be the best choice. Instead, it could make more sense to use platforms like E-Trade or Robinhood if you want to get involved with active trading. Stockpile is also a good choice for investors who want to buy individual stocks using fractional shares.

Overall, though, Betterment is a great choice for building wealth for the long term, including setting accounts for specific goals and using tools that help you see if you’re on track to meet your objectives.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit |

Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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Fidelity Cash Management Account Review 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Fidelity’s cash management account gives its customers a convenient place to keep cash balances with the firm, rather than moving them back and forth between external bank accounts. Like some of the other cash management products offered by brokerages, it’s not necessarily a perfect replacement for your conventional checking account. However, customers can benefit from Fidelity’s generous unlimited ATM fee reimbursement program, even if the APY isn’t the highest available.

Fidelity Cash Management Account Pros

Fidelity Cash Management Account Cons

  • Unlimited ATM fee reimbursements
  • No monthly fees
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • FDIC insurance up to the legal limit
  • Uncompetitive APY
  • Few branch office locations

This review will take a closer look at how Fidelity’s Cash Management Account stacks up in comparison to offerings from traditional banks and other fintech competitors, to help you determine if it’s a good fit for your savings needs.

Fidelity Cash Management Account features

Fidelity markets its cash management account is marketed as a convenient way to enjoy checking-account-like features with FDIC insurance, without corresponding bank fees.

While the account is designed as a home for your idle cash when its not invested in other Fidelity products, the firm has gone the extra mile by adding ease of use and a generous ATM fee reimbursement program, which no doubt helps encourage many investors to keep their extra cash with Fidelity.

You can deposit funds to your Fidelity Cash Management Account in a number of ways. The fastest option is to transfer money from one of your existing Fidelity accounts. If you have a paper check, you can use the Fidelity app to make a remote deposit, just as you could with many online savings accounts. The account accepts direct deposits, and you can also make a one-time transfer at any time from your linked external bank account, or mail a check to Fidelity directly.

Since Fidelity is a brokerage firm, not a bank, it holds its customers’ funds at accounts with partner banks, which also provide FDIC insurance. Fidelity automatically transfers your deposits to these partner banks in increments not exceeding $245,000 to ensure that your deposit at each bank doesn’t exceed the $250,000 FDIC insurance per account. The partner banks offer a combined $1.25 million in FDIC insurance.

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. online savings accounts

Here’s how Fidelity’s Cash Management Account compares to some of the highest-earning online savings accounts from our best online savings accounts review:

Financial Institution

APY

Minimum balance to earn APY

Fidelity

0.82%

$0.01

Vio Bank

1.95%

$100

Customers Bank

1.95%

$25,000

Barclays Bank

1.70%

$0.01

Goldman Sachs Bank USA

1.70%

$0.01

Ally Bank

1.60%

$0.01

In terms of APY, Fidelity’s cash management account doesn’t stack up to the best online savings banks. Vio Bank and Customers Bank both offer APYs in the neighborhood of 2%, far above Fidelity’s 0.82%.

That said, Fidelity’s generous unlimited ATM fee reimbursement program is better than most of its online savings competitors. Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, for example, doesn’t even offer ATM access at all, let alone have any fee reimbursement policy.

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. robo-advisor cash management accounts

Many robo-advisor firms have also launched their own cash management accounts to help them compete with both conventional brokerages and online banks. The features and benefits can vary widely from firm to firm, but overall they tend to provide a combination of checking and savings account functionality. This includes high APYs, free ATM access, remote check deposit and FDIC insurance via partner banks.

Account name

APY

Fidelity Cash Management Account

0.82%

Wealthfront Cash Account

1.78%

Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve

1.83%

SoFi Money

1.60%

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. Wealthfront Cash Account

The comparison of cash management accounts from Fidelity and Wealthfront comes down to ease of access versus a high interest rate. Fidelity offers a debit card and unlimited ATM fee rebates, making for a highly accessible account. Wealthfront doesn’t offer any ATM access, period. However, the Wealthfront Cash Account’s current APY is much higher than Fidelity’s APY. (Wealthfront has claimed that it does intend to offer ATM access at some future date.)

Beyond these important distinctions, Fidelity and Wealthfront share similar features. For both firms, balances in are held in accounts at multiple partner banks, which provide FDIC insurance — Fidelity’s partner banks provide a total of up to $1.25 million in FDIC coverage, while Wealthfront’s partner banks provide up to $1 million in FDIC insurance. Neither firm charges monthly fees, and both offer unlimited withdrawal and deposits.

However, Fidelity offers mobile check deposit and direct deposit funding options, while Wealthfront still only accepts deposits via ACH bank transfer, wire transfer or account transfer.

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve

The Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve pays 1.83% APY and allows unlimited withdrawals and deposits. Betterment holds your cash at accounts with multiple partner banks, which provide up to $1 million in FDIC coverage.

Unlike the Fidelity Cash Management Account, withdrawals from the Everyday Cash Reserve account are via ACH bank transfer only. Both deposits and withdrawals are generally completed within one or two business days, depending on when in the day they are set.

Betterment has been promising to launch checking features that would expand the utility of its cash management account with ATM access and related features, however it remains unclear when this component will arrive. Until that time, the Fidelity Cash Management Account remains a much more liquid option.

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. SoFi Money

SoFi offers a full-fledged line of savings, lending and investment products. SoFi Money offers features of both checking and savings accounts in one high-yielding account, including paper checks, bill pay and ATM access.

Like the Fidelity Cash Management Account, SoFi Money offers unlimited ATM fee rebates. It’s competitive APY isn’t the best available from competing robo-advisors or online savings accounts, but it’s still higher than the APY offered by Fidelity.

Similar to Fidelity, Wealthfront and other cash management accounts, SoFi Money holds its customer’s deposits with partner banks, in multiple FDIC-insured accounts. SoFi’s six partner banks offer customers up to $1.5 million in FDIC insurance. SoFi Money charges no monthly or transaction fees.

Who should get a Fidelity Cash Management Account?

The target market for the Fidelity Cash Management Account is existing Fidelity customers. The convenience of having your money swept into FDIC-insured bank accounts, with easy access to your investment account has real value. So does the ATM access, which isn’t always found with cash management accounts from competing brokers.

However, Fidelity’s ATM reimbursement policy makes the account of added interest to anyone looking for a place to store cash in a readily accessible, interest-bearing account seeking to avoid ATM fees.

An important thing to note is that although Fidelity’s Cash Management Account APY is much higher than that paid by large, traditional banks, it pales in comparison to those paid by other cash management accounts and online savings accounts.

The bottom line is that the Fidelity Cash Management Account can be a good option for existing Fidelity customers, and it’s a definite step up from the rates paid by traditional banks. However, those seeking the highest APYs may prefer alternatives.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

John Csiszar
John Csiszar |

John Csiszar is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email John here