Retirement 
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120 Rule vs. Target Retirement Funds

Have you ever heard of the 120 Rule? The 120 Rule is a basic asset allocation rule. Take your age and subtract it from 120. That is the percentage you should be invested in stocks and the balance should be in bonds. If you’re 40, then you should have 80% in stocks and 20% in bonds. If you’re 50, then 70% stocks and 30% bonds. It’s one of those age old “rules of thumb” that can be a good starting point for deciding asset allocation but bad as an end point. As a retiree at the age of 65, do you really want the majority (55%) of your investments in stocks? Maybe, maybe not, but your reasoning should go beyond the 120 Rule.

When it comes to Target Retirement or Lifecycle funds, not all funds are created equally.

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 Retirement 
16
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Analyzing My Wife’s Old 401(k)

Hand Painted Piggy BankMy wife has a 401(k) with T. Rowe Price from when she used to work at L’Oreal. She never rolled it over before the economic crisis because it wasn’t a priority and there was never a huge incentive to move. The expense ratios were reasonable, there was no annual fee, and it was more important for her to focus on moving, finding a new job, and devoting her time towards that and not rolling over a 401(k), which she could do anytime.

With the stock market swinging so wildly these days, it’s risky to rollover a 401(k) because you might miss a big jump in the transition time. Since the 401(k) isn’t horrible expense-wise, we can do a little spring cleaning and wait for a better time to rollover.

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 Education 
5
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529 Plans: Fees More Important than Deductions

529 Plans: Maryland vs. Nevada PlansUsually. :)

My friend just had their first child and began researching 529 plans. A 529 plan is an education savings plan run by a state or an educational institution, it’s named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. The plan offers tax benefits to individuals saving for future education. In his case, he was looking at a savings plan, rather than a prepaid plan*.

And now he had a choice: an in-state plan with a tax deduction or an out-of-state plan with potentially cheaper funds. Specifically, he wondered if he should open a Maryland 529, which offers a tax deduction to Maryland residents, or a state plan offering Vanguard funds, which is known for lower mutual fund fees. The state plan he found was Nevada’s, which is run by Upromise but offers Vanguard funds. (Plan data provided by Saving For College, run by Bankrate)

College Investment Plan (Maryland)

  • Program Manager: T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc.
  • Residency Requirement: No.
  • Maximum Contributions: No annual limit until account balance for beneficiary reaches $320,000.
  • Account Maintenance Fee: $25 / yr, waived with automatic investments or balance greater than $25,000.
  • Management Fees: 0.28% manager fee, 0.25% once program assets reach $2 billion.
  • Tax Deductions: $2,500 per beneficiary per year by account owner is deductible with a 10 year carryforward on excess contributions.

The Vanguard 529 Savings Plan (Nevada)

  • Program Manager: Upromise Investments, Inc. and Vanguard Group, Inc.
  • Residency Requirement: No.
  • Maximum Contributions: No annual limit until account balance for beneficiary reaches $310,000.
  • Account Maintenance Fee: $20 / yr, waived if account owner or beneficiary is a Nevada resident or assets in account exceed $3,000.
  • Management Fees: 0.65% manager fee, include underlying fund expenses.
  • Tax Deductions: None.

Comparing just the Nevada plan against the Maryland plan, it appears that the Maryland plan is superior. What you’re trading off is the tax deduction versus the mutual fund fees, but the tax deduction is only available the year you contribute. In Maryland, the $2,500 deduction is worth $125 (5% state income tax) making it nearly a wash between the slightly higher account fees in Nevada.

It’s really a choice between T. Rowe funds vs. Vanguard funds. If you’re an index fund type of investor, the T. Rowe Price Equity Index 500 (PREIX) has an expense ratio of 0.35%. Vanguard’s 500 Index (VFINX) expense ratio is 0.15%, meaning T. Rowe’s ratio is more expensive by 0.20%. On a balance of $10,000, that’s a difference of $20 being whisked out of the account each year for nothing. While $20 doesn’t seem like much, that’s a fee taken out each year and one that will erode your investment’s growing potential.

If it were me, I think the Nevada plan is superior of the two because it offers access to cheaper Vanguard funds.

Five Best 529 Plans

Liz Pulliam Weston of MSN money recently looked at the 5 best college savings plans and listed Nevada as one of the top five. The other states included were Alaska, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Virginia. The Virginia plan offers access to some Vanguard funds too.

* A prepaid plan is an option where you “lock in” the price of an in-state public college education right now. You can always convert it to a private or out of state school later on based on some conversion tables.

(Photo: lednew)


 Investing, Personal Finance 
2
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Money: Only 7 Investments You’ll Need

Money Magazine recently released the only 7 investments you’ll ever need and, surprise surprise, my favorite firm, Vanguard, was listed first choice for five of the seven. Their founder, John Bogle, was a major proponent of index funds and it shows in their offering, as almost all of Money’s choices were low-expense ratio index funds.

Need another reason to have a mutual fund account at Vanguard? (No, Vanguard doesn’t sponsor this site!)

Blue-chip US-stock fund: Fidelity Spartan 500 Index (FSMKX) because it replicates the S&P 500 with an expense ratio of 0.10% (coincidentally, Vanguard’s version, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Investor Shares (VFINX) is 50% more expensive with a ratio of 0.15%).

Blue-chip foreign-stock fund: Vanguard Total International Stock Index (VGTSX) because of its solid performance, beating 90% of its peers, and because it’s an index fund with an expense ratio of 0.27%. Another Vanguard fund, the Vanguard FTSE All World Ex-U.S. ETF (VEU), was listed as an alternative.

Small-company fund: T. Rowe Price New Horizons (PRNHX) is an actively managed fund, one of the few actively managed funds they selected, and is “one of the most efficient of the actively managed crowd.” Considering it is actively managed, an expense ratio of 0.8% is pretty good, about half the average.

Value fund: Oh look, another Vanguard fund – the Vanguard Value Index (VIVAX) and its 0.2% expense ratio and a record that trumps 78% of its peers. Value funds go after investments that appear overlooked or beaten down and try earn a little off those cigar butts and dividends, rather than looking for growth potential.

High-quality bond fund: Vanguard Total Bond Market Index (VBMFX) snags this category with a 0.2% expense ratio. Bonds are good to be the rock in your portfolio to give you some grounding as your other investments shoot up and crash down. :)

Inflation-protected bond fund: This last category was won by Vanguard’s Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX) and it’s 0.2% expense ratio (Vanguard’s index funds are ridiculously efficient). “Among TIPS funds, Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities has several things going for it, including lower costs and better management than you would get if you assembled your own TIPS portfolio. While the fund returned 6.6% over the past five years, you shouldn’t expect it to make a pile of dough. Its job is to protect the money you already have.”


 Personal Finance 
0
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Stock Market Brokerage Phone Numbers and Contact Links

Need to absolutely reach your brokerage right now? Here’s a handy resources of all the brokerages I am aware of, their phone numbers, hours of operation, and a link to the brokerage’s contact page. On that page you’ll usually find a Fax number, overnight mail address, regular mail address, email addresses, and sometimes even an online chat. In many cases, there are multiple telephone numbers listed, I chose the one for existing brokerage clients (if that’s not what you need, just hit up the link and you’ll find the whole list).

Brokerage Phone Number Hours of Operation Contact
Charles Schwab 800-435-4000 24/7 link
E*Trade 800-ETRADE-1 7AM-Midnight ET link
Fidelity 800-544-6666 Unknown link
Firstrade 800-869-8800 8:30AM-9PM ET M-F link
Merrill Lynch 800-MERRILL 24/7 link
optionsXpress 888-280-8020 9AM-5:30 ET M-F link
Scottrade 800-619-SAVE Unknown link
Sharebuilder 800-747-2537 8AM-9PM ET M-F link
TDAmeritrade 800-669-3900 7AM-8PM ET M-F link
T. Rowe Price 800-225-7720 8AM-8PM ET M-F link
TradeKing 877-495-5464 8AM–6PM ET M-F link
UBS None Online only link
Vanguard 877-662-7447 24/7 link
Wachovia Securities 877-879-2495 8AM-8PM ET M-F link
WellsTrade 800-TRADERS 24/7 link
Zecco.com 909-657-6655 9AM-6PM (EST) M-F link


Did I miss your brokerage? Let me know and I’ll add their phone number.


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