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

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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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 2019, the employee contribution limit is $19,000 for participants who are under age 50.

If you are in a position to afford a $19,000 annual contribution, you should plan to send $1,583 per month ($19,000/12 = $1,583) 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 $19,000 contribution limit. Your employer may contribute as much as $37,000 to your 401(k) in 2019.

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 $19,000 401(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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Investing

Wealthsimple Review 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Wealthsimple may not be the largest robo-advisor in the U.S. — though it is the largest in Canada and made the leap south of the border in 2017 — but it should be counted among the best. It’s especially valuable for newer investors, even though its fees are higher than some rivals’. For that higher fee, clients receive a portfolio review from an actual human and an all-inclusive package without additional fees, which may cost extra at other robo-advisors. Clients also have access to socially responsible portfolios and at least one other unusual perk. Altogether, Wealthsimple is the complete package for beginners to not-so-beginners.

Wealthsimple
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The bottom line: Though it’s on the expensive side, Wealthsimple delivers an investor-friendly product that’s great for newer investors.

  • Free portfolio review and no extra fees
  • Access to financial planners
  • Higher account management fee

Who should consider Wealthsimple

Wealthsimple is a great choice for investors who are looking for a few more perks from their robo-advisor and who don’t mind paying a bit more for that privilege. It’s also a solid choice for those looking to get into socially engaged investing or halal investing and those who need basic access to financial planners. In these respects, it’s a good choice for beginners who need more guidance. Finally, for those with larger accounts, Wealthsimple provides expanded access to planners as well as special airport lounge access.

Wealthsimple fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $0
Management fees
  • 0.5% (less than $100K deposited)
  • 0.4% ($100K+ deposited)
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • Trust
Portfolio
  • ETFs cover 10 asset classes.
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Tax loss harvesting detailTax loss harvesting is automatically activated for Wealthsimple Black clients; it is available to all Wealthsimple clients.
Offers fractional shares
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, Email

Strengths of Wealthsimple

  • Free portfolio review: Wealthsimple offers a free portfolio review as a way to get its foot in the door, much like FutureAdvisor does. With Wealthsimple, you provide your personal details, upload your financial statements and make an appointment with one of the company’s financial planners. The review includes an assessment not only of your investments but also of your debts and how much you’re paying for the funds or investments you currently have. It also includes plans to minimize your taxes and sets up your financial goals — so you know where you’re going. The entire process is led by a Wealthsimple financial planner, who has a fiduciary duty to act in your best interest. Even if you don’t opt for Wealthsimple, it’s a free review of your whole financial life by a professional, so it’s hard to go wrong there.
  • Expanded access to financial planners: While everyone at Wealthsimple has some access to financial planners, those enrolled in Wealthsimple Black (for accounts of more than $100,000) receive more access. This includes a formalized financial plan, which features a strategy for generating retirement income and a goals-based investing plan for retirement or for those big purchases in life. This access is one of the larger perks of the service and should be a draw for those who need this kind of planning and advice.
  • No extra fees and access to some unusual perks: Even if Wealthsimple does charge one of the higher account management fees, it doesn’t nickel-and-dime you on other fees like many other robo-advisors do. A transfer-out fee that might run you $75 at a rival is free here. And tax loss harvesting and portfolio rebalancing are included as a standard part of the management fee.Wealthsimple also allows you to purchase fractional shares, which is a nice bonus for beginning investors who may not have enough money to buy a full share of a fund with a high price tag. That ability allows you to purchase the full range of funds recommended for you and fully diversify even smaller cash deposits immediately — getting you in the game more quickly.Finally, the most unusual perk offered by Wealthsimple has nothing to do with investing. If you have more than $100,000 with the robo-advisor, you’ll become part of Wealthsimple Black, the firm’s upgraded service that offers access to more than 1,000 airline lounges in over 400 cities. If you’re a frequent traveler, that’s a nice perk.
  • Socially engaged investing: Looking to build a portfolio filled with socially responsible companies? Wealthsimple can help you do that, investing in six exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that support major socially engaged themes, such as low carbon, gender diversity and affordable housing. The company builds three types of portfolios using these investments depending on your risk tolerance: conservative, balanced and growth.Wealthsimple also offers Shariah-compliant halal investing, which is in accord with Islamic law. All investments avoid profiting from gambling, tobacco, arms or other industries that violate Islamic law. The diversified portfolio consists of 50 Stocks that have been vetted by a third-party committee of Shariah scholars. Because the portfolio is all Stocks, it’s riskier than more balanced portfolios that include Bonds (which are forbidden under the investment mandate).

Drawbacks of Wealthsimple

  • Account management fee: The account management fee — clocking in at 0.5% (less than $100K deposited) for basic accounts — is probably the biggest drawback at Wealthsimple. Basic accounts at other major rivals are around 0.25%. But it’s not always an apples-to-apples comparison, as Wealthsimple clients have some access to financial planners as well as the other free services above. And Wealthsimple manages the first $5,000 for a year for free, so that helps newer investors get started with their nest egg.Clients who deposit more than $100,000 will automatically join Wealthsimple Black, reducing their management fee to 0.4% and gaining more extensive access to a financial planner. Still, this reduced fee remains above those of rivals offering access to financial planners, including Schwab Intelligent Advisory (at 0.28% and a minimum of just $25,000) and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services (0.30% and a $50,000 minimum). These options beat Wealthsimple on the minimum for the higher tier of service too.
  • Customer support: Wealthsimple provides adequate customer service, and you can call in to have your account or investing questions answered by a professional. But the hours feel somewhat limited: Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST. You also can drop Wealthsimple a line via email, but don’t expect an online chat or off-hour responses.

Is Wealthsimple safe?

Wealthsimple manages more than $2 billion in client assets, so it’s a trusted name in the industry. Client assets — which technically are held by the company’s broker, Apex Clearing, and not Wealthsimple itself — are safeguarded by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). This ensures that in the event of a bankruptcy, customers’ assets are insured to at least $500,000 (including $250,000 in cash only). That doesn’t protect you against the market falling or other risks of investing, but it should give you peace of mind about Wealthsimple.

Final thoughts

Wealthsimple should be an attractive candidate for any new investor looking to understand how to build a portfolio. The firm provides access to its financial planners for all investors, though clients in the higher service tier will receive more extensive time with them. The free portfolio review also is a solid service for beginning investors, and those looking to build a socially engaged portfolio should consider Wealthsimple.

Beginning investors who are focused primarily on fees (and need less access to education and advice) might consider shifting to Wealthfront or Betterment. Those who need more advice and can bring more than a little coin to their accounts also might want to consider Vanguard Personal Advisor Services or Schwab Intelligent Advisory. But Wealthsimple will be a solid fit for most.

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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.

James F. Royal, Ph.D.
James F. Royal, Ph.D. |

James F. Royal, Ph.D. is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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YieldStreet Review 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

YieldStreet is the type of fintech company that the internet makes possible: The investment manager, founded in 2015, connects borrowers with investors in alternative assets, taking a fee from each deal it completes. These alternative investments include short-term loans that might traditionally have gone to well-connected investors, such as placements in real estate, litigation finance, and marine vessel acquisition and deconstruction.

The appeal for investors (who must be accredited) is the high yields offered on the deals, and YieldStreet has engineered financings worth more than a half-billion dollars. Also of interest is what YieldStreet claims is its investments’ low correlation to the stock market, meaning these assets won’t zag when the market does. That provides diversification away from publicly traded companies and offers greater safety to an investor’s overall portfolio.

YieldStreet
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The bottom line: YieldStreet provides high yields on illiquid real estate and alternative investments, albeit with high fees.

  • Clearly explains the benefits and risks of individual investments
  • Offers a variety of investment types
  • Charges pricey management fees

Who should consider YieldStreet

The prospect of high interest on a limited-term loan can be enticing, but you’re invited to the club only if you’re an accredited investor. That means you’ll need to have at least $200,000 in income for the past two years as an individual, or $300,000 if joint. Alternatively, you need at least $1 million in assets, not including your primary residence. So YieldStreet is not for casual investors who decide they want to invest in real estate loans.

Another factor: As an investor, you’ll need to analyze the prospectuses of various loans, which the company will provide you. While YieldStreet outlines many of the risks, it’s ultimately up to you to decide what to invest in, and that requires more work than simply buying an index fund and kicking back. These are illiquid investments, so if you need the money soon, you’re better off elsewhere.

YieldStreet fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $10,000 (possibly higher for specific offerings)
Commission1% to 4% management fee on all offerings
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • Trust
Customer supportPhone, Email

Strengths of YieldStreet

  • High yields and easy-to-make investments: YieldStreet couldn’t really make it any easier, technically, to select potential investments. It’s easy to allocate a certain amount of your capital to each loan, and the prominent details of each are presented in an easy-to-read summary. You’ll read sections on the investment’s positives and negatives, and you can download further information too. It’s easy to go by what YieldStreet says, but investors will want to investigate and analyze each investment themselves.And those high yields? The company is targeting 8% to 20% annual returns, a level that would make almost any investor’s mouth water. The company projects that already-financed investments are on track for a 12.6% annual return.
  • High interest on cash account: Investors can fund their investments from the YieldStreet Wallet, which allows users — even unaccredited investors — to earn 2% on the cash in their account. It’s like an online bank account, and it’s backed by a real bank, Evolve Bank & Trust. That’s an attractive rate for investors looking to stash their cash while waiting on their next YieldStreet investment or even for average investors to stockpile their money at an above-average yield.
  • No principal loss on prior investments: YieldStreet really wants you to know upfront that investors have lost no principal on their investments. It’s one of the first things the company’s website highlights. Each investment is asset-based — that is, backed by collateral — meaning it’s supported by an asset such as real estate or a legal settlement. Collateral provides greater safety to the loans that are on offer. If a loan does go sour, YieldStreet works with the loan’s originator to recoup as much of the principal and outstanding interest as possible, potentially through legal action. While the track record has been good so far, it can turn at any time.

Drawbacks of YieldStreet

  • Pricey management fees: The company clearly outlines that it takes a 1% to 4% management fee on all offerings on its financed deals, and that isn’t cheap. For each deal, the company highlights the expected net investment return, and it would be all too easy to bury the management fee in the fine print. But it does disclose the fees on its summary page for each deal (and not in illegible legalese either), so kudos for that.Still, those fees are expensive, especially as management fees on index funds of publicly traded companies are quickly plummeting. Of course, the appeal of YieldStreet is the access to traditionally inaccessible deals, and the company is charging a premium for that access.
  • Illiquid investments: Another downside to these investments, relative to traditional stock and bond investments, is that they are tied up completely for the life of the project and are illiquid. The company clearly spells out how long each project should last, and projects may run for just a few months to several years. If you can’t keep your money in that long and need access to it, this kind of investing won’t be for you.
  • Ongoing fees: It’s not just the management fee that comes out of your account but also an ongoing fee for each investment, and this fee depends on the type of legal structure set up to house the investment. This fee pays for such things as an annual audit and filing fees with the SEC. Depending on the specific type of structure, first-year fees run $100 to $150, while subsequent years cost $30 to $70.That can be more pricey than you think and can really ding your returns, especially if you’re investing smaller amounts. For instance, if you invested the minimum in each deal — $10,000 — and earned a 9% return, a $150 fee would eat up one-sixth of your first-year interest and as much as one-twelfth of your interest in subsequent years. That’s no trivial fee, and it encourages you to invest more in each deal, which may or may not be prudent.
  • Uncertain risks and an unproven business model: The company does provide key details of each deal, a useful guide for what to watch out for and a prospectus. However, there may be further or unknown risks investors must ascertain for themselves (just as there are in publicly traded investments). That means investors in YieldStreet really need to be able to analyze these potential investments effectively and perhaps even have some background conducting such analysis. There’s no one who’s going to do this work for you, so if you’re not comfortable doing it, YieldStreet may not be for you.In addition, the quality of YieldStreet’s investments is still untested by a significant recession — remember that the company was founded in 2015 — and such a test will prove how viable this model is longer term. The returns on offer here imply high risk, and risky investments often perform poorly during tough times. Of course, this is not a prediction but something prudent investors will want to analyze for themselves.

Is YieldStreet safe?

The biggest risk at YieldStreet is the investments themselves, and that varies on a case-by-case basis. That said, the company boasts that investors have had $0 loss of principal while enjoying (or slated to enjoy) an annual return of 12.6%. Each investment fund is held in a separate company whose sole purpose is keeping the investment secure, and in the event of YieldStreet going bankrupt, a new manager could be appointed for the funds.

The company’s YieldStreet Wallet, which pays interest on cash balances, is held by the FDIC-backed Evolve Bank & Trust, meaning that any cash deposits are insured up to $250,000. None of this protection, however, means that your at-risk investments at YieldStreet won’t lose money.

Final thoughts

YieldStreet is an interesting investment offering enabled by the connective power of the internet, and it’s allowing investors and borrowers to come together in new ways. The potential for high returns is there for investors, but these returns also imply high risk. While the track record is favorable so far, YieldStreet is too young to have gone through a recession. With high-risk investments, things can change quickly, so investors should invest accordingly.

Accredited investors who find the risk and fee structure a bit too much also may turn to publicly traded stocks, where fees are moving ever lower. While such investments don’t offer the low correlation to stock markets, they offer a time-tested model and potential exposure to the world’s best businesses (and you can even invest in real estate if you want).

Open a YieldStreet accountSecured
on YieldStreet’s secure website

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.

James F. Royal, Ph.D.
James F. Royal, Ph.D. |

James F. Royal, Ph.D. is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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