A FIREcalc Review: Is It Useful?

firecalc

We may all have our own interests and beliefs, but, if there is one thing we can all agree on it’s that everyone needs a retirement plan. Hiring a financial planner to help us with such a feat can be costly, though, and knowing where to start can also be a mystery. Before speaking with any retirement consultants, it may be wise to obtain an idea of what you can live off each year with your current portfolio as well as how much you might need to invest in order to live off your goal amount.  Luckily, the internet has come to the rescue with FIREcalc. But, what is it, exactly, and is it useful?

How FIREcalc Works:

FIREcalc is an online retirement and financial independence planning tool that gives you an idea of whether or not you can live off your current lifestyle with what you have in retirement. More than that, it actually compares how well your portfolio would have done throughout some of the toughest economic times in history dating back to 1887. Through this analysis, it helps to give you an idea of how well your investments will do in the future.

firecalc

To get started, you simply enter your goal annual spending amount, your current portfolio, and how many years you plan on using your retirement funds. Once applied, the FIREcalc simulation will calculate a simulation based on 30-year increments from the last 117 years. What will be produced is a color-coded graph with year-end balances. From here, FIREcalc states that you’ll be able to see the “big picture” of your current strategy.

firecalc graph

 

Pros:

The best part of FIREcalc is that it is free to use. There is absolutely no payment required nor do you even need to put a credit card on file. You’ll also not need to worry about creating an account, and you can use the retirement calculator as often or as many times as you need. You’ll be able to play out different financial scenarios with only the cost of time.

The homepage of the site provides an overview of what to expect, and, when you click on “How It Works,” you’ll find an informative FAQ that will be important to review prior to actually using the calculator. It explains the importance of evaluating the market throughout history as well as a step-by-step guide to FIRECalc.

Because this free online tool uses trends from the market since 1887, it automatically calculates the average success rate of your plan over time. The higher your success rate, the better your plan, obviously. There is no waiting for these results as they are generated as soon as you click “Submit.”

As you can see from the above results, the success rate of a $900,000 portfolio with a $40,000 annual withdraw for 40 years had a 71% success rate on average. This shows the user that changes need to be made to improve their success rate, and, because there are unlimited uses, the user can continue to crunch numbers to see what would be better for their current portfolio along with seeing how much they may need to increase it to achieve the desired yearly withdrawal amount.

Cons:

Although quick to use, the visuals of the site are a little underwhelming and overbearing with text. If you use the calculator without reading through the content you may find yourself easily confused, especially considering the historical factor FIREcalc uses to calculate results. It can also be easy to miss the calculator on the first page, as it is not visible right away, even when you click “Calculator” along the top tab.

It’s also important to note that FIREcalc is not meant to predict what will happen, but rather what will not happen. There are limitations, so even though you can incorporate your social security, you can’t tweak it to get the results you want. Part of this limitation includes not incorporating taxable versus non-taxable portfolios, leaving more room for inaccuracies.

Is It Useful?

The FIREcalc tool may not be 100% accurate, but because it is based on predictions, it can still give you an idea of how strong your portfolio is. The sooner you can start making adjustments, the better for your financial future. If nothing else, it’s another free retirement planning tool that shows you what you should consider setting aside to live the life you want. Just remember, the goal is to give you a general idea and is not an end-all solution to retirement planning.

Have you ever used FIREcalc? What are your thoughts? 

5 Gotcha’s Wall Street Tries To Hide From You

hand-427509_640The financial markets are the biggest industry in the world which is comprised of hundreds of trillions of dollars and millions of people.  With interest, money, and participation levels so high, deciphering information becomes incredibly difficult.

Everyone assumes some of the Wall Street experts know everything there is to know about the stock market, however, sometimes the information you hear from them is not accurate.  Here is a list of the five gotcha’s that Wall Street tries to hide from you.

1) You Cannot Get Market Returns Yourself

The first gotcha that Wall Street tries to hide from you is that you cannot get market returns yourself, and because you cannot get market returns yourself, you should hand over your money to a “professional” so that those “professionals” can get those returns for you.

This is not true at all.  Anyone with a laptop and an online brokerage account can get market returns over the course of the year by buying certain products which were created to mimic returns of the overall market or index.

For example, most professional traders and money managers compare their results to the S&P 500 Index.  This is an index comprised of 500 stocks in different sectors such as consumer discretionary, energy, and health care.  The S&P being comprised of 500 stocks also gives a large enough sample size for a snapshot of the overall market.

Getting the same returns as the S&P 500 is actually quite simple.  In 1993, State Street Advisors created the first ETF known as the S&P 500 Index ETF with the symbol of $SPY.  The goal of this ETF was to mimic market returns by having the same exact holdings as the S&P 500 Index itself.  With that said, buying the S&P 500 Index ETF will get you market returns every single time!

2) All Dividends Are Created Equal

Everyone loves dividends, right?  If you own a dividend stock, you qualify for a dividend payment which most of the time gets paid out once a quarter by the company whose stock you own if they pay a dividend to shareholders.

Besides getting paid to own the stock, many investors like dividend stocks because they are taxed at a lower rate when compared to ordinary income.  Taxes on dividends range from anywhere between 0 and 23.8% (capital gains rates), which are typically less than ordinary income.

Dividends make sense.  Own a stock that you think will go higher, get paid to do so, and be taxed at a lower rate.  Awesome, right?

Unfortunately, not all dividends qualify for these low tax rates.  Non-qualified dividends come when a company pays out large amounts of their yearly profits in the form of dividends.  For example, REITs pay out up to 90% of their profits as dividends but those dividends are non-qualified, so the dividend recipients of REITs do not get their dividends taxed at capital gains rates, rather, those dividends are taxed as ordinary income.

3) Dividends Prove A Company Is Strong

Wall Street likes to tell people that if a company is strong they will have enough money to pay a dividend.  So if a company pays a dividend, it is assumed the company is strong.

There are a few reasons why this is not the case.

First, companies can borrow money and go further into debt just to pay dividends. With interest rates as low as they are now, companies can borrow money at lower interest rates than their current dividend yield.  That does not make a company strong, it only proves the point that interest rates are low.

Second, what do Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FANG stocks) all have in common?  They are all growth companies!  But what else do they have in common?  They all do not pay a dividend.  The reality is, a lot of companies feel it is a better proposition to reinvest profits back into the company to grow the business. A lot of the time, when companies do not feel reinvesting profits is a good strategy, they will just pay people to hold their stock in the form of a dividend.

I don’t know about you, but I want to own shares of companies who are reinvesting their profits because they think that is worth it.

4) You Have To Hold Stocks For A Year To Receive Capital Gains

Most of the time, capital gains are created when a stock is held for one full year.  Wall Street will tell you this is the only way to receive capital gains.

Unfortunately, this is not true.  According to IRS Section 1256 Marked to Market, there are significant tax advantage to trading options in broad based indexes (such as the S&P 500 Index) or future options (such as the E-mini S&P 500 Futures contracts).  60% of all gains in those products (regardless of the length of time in the trade) can be taxed at the capital gains rate while 40% of gains in those products have to be taxed as ordinary income.

This tax advantage for broad based index options and futures options is a large advantage to investors and traders with larger accounts as these products require substantial capital to participate in trading/investing in them.  However, 60% of the gains made in a broad based equity index trade that lasted for all of five minutes are able to be taxed at capital gains rates.

5) It Is A Stock Picker’s Game

If you turn on the television and tune into the likes of a CNBC or Bloomberg, you will undoubtedly find the one screen commentators speaking about individual stocks; stocks that have huge potential to go up, down side, or be acquired by another company.

This focus on individual companies creates the belief that individual investors should go out there, focus on individual stocks, and look for diamonds in the rough such as the next Amazon or Apple.

The top money managers in the world do own individual stocks and bonds, however, the majority of their holdings are in index products; those products which give a diversified approach to investing by spreading our across multiple sectors and asset class.

Rather than picking stocks, I recommend choosing index products or ETFs.

Wrapping Up

To summarize what we have spoken about, here are the five gotcha’s that Wall Street tries to hide from you:

  1. You Cannot Get Market Returns Yourself
  2. All Dividends Are Created Equal
  3. Dividends Prove A Company Is Strong
  4. You Have To Hold Stocks For A Year To Receive Capital Gains
  5. It Is A Stock Picker’s Game

Anyone have any other gotcha’s to add to this list?

Four Things to Know About Crowdfunding Investments

tax breaks for 2016For many investors, the idea of putting money into a startup company has often not been possible. The amount of money needed to even consider participating was simply outside the financial resources of small and even medium size investors. Today, everything has changed. Beginning in 2012, laws were changed to allow for capital formation in new ways. The most significant was crowdfunding. Allowing the pooling of small investment dollars for startup ventures. This created an entirely new source of capital for businesses, and the creation of new enterprises and the jobs that came with them.

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a pooling of money, usually from a large group of small investors instead of a few wealthy investors. This enables many people to participate in many investment deals that they would not normally be able to be a part of. One example of crowdfunding is financing startup businesses. This has been a form of investment that was outside the reach of most investors, but today, most people have many opportunities to invest their money in new projects by entrepreneurs.

Why is crowdfunding attractive to investors?

Unlike many other forms of investment, the upside to investing in a startup company is tremendous. For a certain amount of money, a small investor will have a stake in the new company. It is not a loan, but an exchange of startup money for equity in the company. This type of investment has always been the domain of the rich, but now that smaller investors have access to it, so crowdfunding has become very popular.

Another type of equity crowdfunding

Although it was entrepreneurs with startup companies that attracted the most attention, there were other areas of investment that were allowed under the new laws. At the top of the list is real estate crowdfunding. This allows smaller investors to participate in the ownership of rental properties. Sure, you could buy an income producing piece of real estate yourself, such as a house, but it is also a large amount of money that you’re investing in a single piece of property. With crowdfunding, you are spreading your investment dollar to several properties. In some cases, you may have an equity share in both commercial and residential properties.

Why real estate equity crowdfunding is different

In the past, you could purchase shares in a Real Estate Investment Trust, but this is much different. A REIT is similar to buying shares in a corporation. You make money if the stock price goes up and you sell the stock, or the company pays dividends. In either case, you own shares of the REIT and not the real estate itself. With crowdfunding, you are a part owner of the real estate and get a portion of the profits generated by the property. In addition, because you have an equity stake in these properties, everything is above board. You know exactly what is owned by the crowdfund. A REIT will often not disclose the full extent of the properties owned.

With Internet technology, equity real estate crowdfunding is available online, and for many investors, it offers an alternative to the stock market. At the very least it can be complementary to your stock portfolio. There are many platforms online that offer real estate crowdfunding investments. Perhaps the oldest one is Fundrise. They have been around since the laws were first changed in 2012 to allow for capital formation of crowdfunding. Fundrise Reviews can be found on many crowdfunding blogs and forums.