Investing, Retirement 

How to choose between a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k)

401KIt’s been several years since the Roth 401(k) was introduced to the American retirement scene. As this retirement planning option has become more well-known, and as more employers offer the Roth version of the venerable 401(k), more workers are faced with making a decision about which is more likely to help them reach their retirement goals.

If your employer offers access to a Roth 401(k), it makes sense to rethink your retirement contribution plan. Here’s how to decide which type of 401(k) to use for your retirement investment.

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Be Wise to Investment Taxes

When it comes to investing, there are two things you can control – how much you pay in fees and how much you pay in taxes. With fees, it’s pretty straightforward because fees are disclosed up front. A brokerage charges you $x per trade, a mutual fund company pulls x% in expenses, and both are required by law to make those very clear.

Taxes are slightly different. The tax code can be complicated and it doesn’t help that there are so many different “types” of investment accounts from 401(k)s to Roth IRAs to your plain vanilla brokerage account. When it comes to investing, what you buy and where can be just as important as what you buy.

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How Often Should I Rebalance My Investment Portfolio?

After writing this morning’s Betterment review and reading about their rebalancing feature, I started thinking about rebalancing. Betterment rebalances your portfolio after each quarter and if your actuals deviate from your allocation by more than 5%. In other words, they rebalance on a schedule and when the deviation exceeds a certain level (5%). When you read about rebalancing and when you should do it, many places often just point to a calendar date – rebalance every quarter, every six months, or once a year.

What is Rebalancing?

Rebalancing is the act of adjusting your actual investment allocation so that it meets you desired investment allocation. If you want to be 80% stocks and 20% bonds, you need to rebalance your investments periodically since both will likely perform differently over time. How often and when you rebalance is a matter of debate but as is the case with any type of investing (or gambling), it’s about the odds, your plan, and sticking with the plan as long as it’s worth sticking to!

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 Personal Finance 

Mortgage Heatmaps, Roth 401(k)s & Repetition

I discovered this detailed real estate blog called Matrix and this incredible set of mortgage-related heatmaps used by Bernanke in his last speech. Heatmaps are the quickest way to get a “snapshot” of a situation and these go through so many permutations that you can get a really good sense of what’s going on (and there are so many maps!). I had no idea unemployment concentrations were dispersed the way they are and how badly hit the Michigan area has been lately given the major auto manufacturer’s financial woes.

My last employer recently offered a Roth 401(k), which is essentially a tax-free version of the tax-deferred 401(k), though employer contributions are tax-deferred. It’s an interesting concept that has been around for a few years but hasn’t been adopted too widely, probably because of the paperwork. If I had a choice, I’d split my contributions evenly between the two and give myself some diversification.

Trent has received numerous complaints that he writes about the same stuff over and over again and that it’s getting old. Unfortunately for all you excitement hounds, personal finance is repetitive, it is conceptually easy, and “slow and steady” does win the race. It’s the chase of excitement, having that fancy car so you can drive it fast, throwing some money at a high flying potential stock, or that huge flat panel television -I that’s the stuff that derails your trek to your personal finance goal. Spend less than you earn, contribute to your 401(k) and save for retirement, ensure you have proper and adequate insurance, blah blah blah – it’s repetitive but it works. Michael Jordan once said he shot a thousand free throws a day. How’s that for repetitive?

Nickel wrote a bit about his asset allocation this week and it’s something I am hoping to review sometime next week. I’ve input all the data I have into Vanguard’s Portfolio Watch and now I just have to figure out what my goals are so I can set things up correctly once and for all.

Housing doesn’t always go up. Sometimes it comes down. Hard. (scroll down to the story of the house that sold for $505k in 2006 and is now on the market for $177,495 – ouch)

Lastly, if you like heatmaps and those first dozen weren’t enough, here’s a cool one about all the pieces of inflation on the New York Times, my new BFF, courtesy of Consumerist (who got it from Nathan). Not surprisingly, that big red area is gas.

Have a great weekend!

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