31

I am 24 yrs old and am making $60,000/yr while saving ~41% of that. 28% of which is going to my Roth 401(k) and the rest is going into a TD Ameritrade and a small amount into a Robinhood account (both managed by me currently).

While I was reviewing the restrictions on my 401(k) with respect to withdrawal regulation, I started thinking, why don't I drop down to 10% on my 401(k) (so that I still get the matching contributions from employer) and invest the rest into a more aggressive TD Managed Portfolio?

It is important to note that I don't worry about my saving habits and won't spend away my retirement. I see this as giving me more investment flexibility in the near future as I am looking at real estate investments or just want something more aggressive than what the 401(k) plans offer.

Is this ill advised or am I going in the right direction?

  • 4
    I used to be focused on saving up money to invest in real-estate as well, then I read this article: Why your house is a terrible investment and actually crunched the numbers. Even the professionals in this field only see ~6% annual growth, which is pretty shitty considering the risks. Make sure you do your research first so you're working with realistic numbers. – Dugan Nov 19 '19 at 17:50
  • 21
    How can the TD managed portfolio be more aggressive than the index? Honestly it sounds like you have been misled as to the mechanics of volatility. Yes, a smart manager with a research staff can pick stocks marginally better than the index itself, but not by enough to justify their expenses. Of course you'll always find a few that beat the index in recent years by more than that, but that's luck, and it'll average out in the long run. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 19 '19 at 18:13
  • 6
    @Harper-ReinstateMonica "Aggressive" often means "higher beta", i.e., higher upside, but higher downside as well. Of course, it also sometimes just means "We think we can get you to pay more in fees if we make it sound like we're doing more". – Acccumulation Nov 20 '19 at 5:42
  • 2
    Can you not invest your 401(k) money in a managed fund? – Acccumulation Nov 20 '19 at 5:43
  • 2
    @Andrew I realize this is likely old news for you, but it might not be for others. Owning a house can be more expensive than renting, even taking into account that you wind up owning your house at the end. That's because the cost of the down payment, financing, and maintenance will prevent you from investing that money in the meantime, and over the life of the mortgage, the lost potential investment returns could be greater than the house's value. Nerd Wallet has a neat calculator that lets you play with the numbers. – Conspicuous Compiler Nov 21 '19 at 18:12
40

The biggest benefit of using a Roth 401(k) vs a non-tax-advantaged investment account is that the growth is tax free (not just deferred like a traditional 401(k)). With the managed account, you'll pay taxes on all distributions and realized gains as you get them, which adds friction to long-term growth. The downside is obviously that you can't touch the growth until retirement (save for some specific exceptions like higher education), which hinders your ability to use it for things like direct real estate investing. I don't think you'll find that a managed account will offer a large enough return to make up for tax-free growth.

So most advisors recommend maxing out tax-advantaged accounts as much as possible, then looking to non-advantaged opportunities.

That said, you are already well on your way to a prosperous life if you keep up that level of spending, so there's not a wrong answer, only answers that are more optimal from a tax standpoint.

One other option you might consider is putting some in a Health Savings Account. It requires a high-deductible health plan, but qualified withdrawals (which is pretty broad for health-related expenses) are tax-free and don't expire, so it can be used as a quasi-retirement account if you build it up now and use it later in life when medical expenses are higher, either to older age or when you have a family.

  • 12
    "The downside is obviously that you can't touch it until retirement" note that this only applies to the growth with Roth accounts, you can withdraw contributions at any time without penalty, so it's not much of a downside here. – Hart CO Nov 19 '19 at 17:50
  • 7
    No. The biggest benefits of a Roth are numerous and non-mathematical. For instance, since you're not taxed on exit, there are no mandatory distributions, and you can withdraw at any time without taxes. That matters because Trads need careful management to contain tax exposure; if an elder has a $200,000 medical bill year and pays for it out of a Trade, that utterly destroys all the supposed tax savings of deferring taxes; not an issue with a Roth. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 19 '19 at 18:18
  • 2
    @Harper-ReinstateMonica I'm looking at the withdrawal rules on Roth 401k, I may be missing something but I don't see how I can withdraw at any time. I can italic_borrow_italic from it but there is a penalty for withdrawing given my age. – JoeBo Nov 19 '19 at 18:55
  • 3
    @JoeBo You would have to roll it into a Roth IRA, which may not be possible until after you leave your current job. – D Stanley Nov 19 '19 at 18:59
  • 2
    @JoeBo I mean withdraw any time after 59-1/2 during the nominal retirement period. . I am contrasting it with a traditional, which has mandatory withdrawals after 70-1/2 and painful tax consequences if your withdrawals are irregular. My parents are going to be in a murderous 32% tax bracket this year. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 19 '19 at 19:38
34

TLDR: That TD Ameritrade product isn't more aggressive, just razzle-dazzle. Invest like endowments.

And invest very early, because time means compounding.

Aggressiveness is the right strategy. But it's simple.

Endowment manager here. Go all-in on retirement, and do it early. Time is money, friend.

Endowments are forever-funds which are designed to grow with inflation. They finance things like university professorships, sports teams, the upkeep of monuments, etc. Withdrawals and investment strategy are very tightly regulated by law, to assure sustainable withdrawals and guaranteed growth.

Endowments are required to seek long-term growth and disregard volatility (what investment novices call "risk"). As such, they are required to be very heavily in highly diversified stocks, probably over half the total capital being in funds that strongly resemble (or simply are) S&P 500 index funds or total-market funds like VTI.

They sprinkle in some foreign stocks, sometimes real estate, muni bonds, odds and ends but nothing complicated. Growth is expected to be 8-10%/year on very long term average.

Yes. Endowments, where growth is everything, are invested rather simply.

And hey, a typical endowment is overseen by an institutional Board which has investment bankers on the Board, so they know exactly what they're doing.

Of course, the stock market bounces around like a tennis ball. That's volatility. If you roll a die, you get anything from 1 to 6: Volatility. But if you roll 1000 dice, the average will always be 3.5. That is the law of large numbers. Very long term planning horizons like 25+ years allow the laws of large numbers to apply. All that volatility averages out, and you are left with the growth.

When you're 24 and expecting to take it out at age 74, that's 50 years. Your investment goals are identical to the endowment manager's.

Getting to that in a 401K plan is easy enough; the dozen or so funds always include some sort of broad-market index fund, a foreign stocks fund or two, and some odds and ends. Just keep an eye on fees.

Actively managed funds work against you

The product you linked actually harms you 2 if not 3 ways. First, they are biting you for a custodial fee of 0.3% per year - essentially they're doing fee-based investing, but turning around and putting you into commission-based products. You are much better off hiring a fee-only advisor who does not collect commissions and is not connected with a brokerage, and so recommends the actually best product instead of being forced to recommend higher-expense house products. Or, you can work it out yourself.

Here's the problem with fees. It may seems sensible to let everyone "wet their beak" or "spread the love" or whatever. But all those fees are a guaranteed total loss. If you're getting beaten up for 2% fees, that's 2% growth you didn't have. And when you're hoping for 10% growth, that's 1/5 of your growth, and when you consider compounding, that's hundreds of thousands of dollars by retirement.

Read John Bogle's "Common sense on mutual funds". Your #1 goal is to cut fees.

But is it worth it, since the fund manager picks better stocks than the index? Oh, really!? Part of Bogle's book examines that question; they don't do nearly as well as you think. And even that disregards the expense ratios of the funds, which are 100% guaranteed loss, remember. When an index fund's expense ratio is 0.1% and a managed fund is 1.5%, that means the fund must beat the index by 1.4% per year, every year, on average, just for you to break even. And it turns out that is pretty much impossible to do reliably over the long term. And impossible to foresee, since past performance is no indicator of future success.

The standard broker razzle-dazzle

So what TD Ameritrade is doing for you is the standard razzle-dazzle. "Oh, investing is so, so complicated", they say. "Oh, you need our help." And so they want to take 0.3%/year to make you confuse them with a fee-only advisor, then turn around and put you into "genius-managed funds" with a possible one-time load as high as 5.5%, and an expense ratio in the 1-1.6%/year rate (depending on load). All of that is total loss.

Of course they are likely to recommend you into far more byzantine, opaque products you'll never understand. That is the point. To leave you so confused you don't know what to do, and just give up and rely blindly on their advice.

This is SOP in the brokerage business.

Honestly when it comes to retirement (or super-long-term-growth) investing, it's dog simple. Endowment managers get this. So do investment bankers (often the same people); they just want to fleece you for the maximum expenses possible.

If a complicated product actually gave better yields, endowment portfolios would be full of them. They're not.

$10,000 invested this year is worth $20,000 in 7 years

Time is money, friend. If you forego a $10,000 additional investment into your retirement, and say "I'll do that in 8 years", you'd need to contribute $20,000 additional to have the same effect (and then you run into contribution caps). That's because market growth is really quite good on average, and you can see the money in the fund double in 7 years. If you can tighten your belt today to put in the $10,000, that's $20,000 you don't have to contribute 7 years hence.

  • 3
    Beating the market every year: the OP should search for "Neil Woodford". He is a fund manager that seemed to be able to consistently beat the market ... until he wasn't. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 20 '19 at 11:27
  • While I agree with what you said in principle, IMHO 10% return while you are 24yo is not good enough; you can afford to be more aggressive. My retirement is giving me 15% and my other investments 16% right now. I did move my retirement investments because they were giving me 8%. Long term stable returns can come after OP is 35; right now 10% should be seen as bare minimum. – raubvogel Nov 21 '19 at 18:56
  • 2
    @raubvogel Operative word is right now. You're missing the key. The 10% is a very long-term average that includes downturns like 2008. You're cheating, because you're looking at apples and oranges: cherry picking a short period within a bull market that happened to be awesome. Your window is too short to be predictable... so you are vulnerable to volatility. In fact, volatility caused that 16% number and will cause a -7% number next (or last) period. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 21 '19 at 20:25
6

I'd like to add a spin to this issue, based on tax brackets.

enter image description here

It appears that you don't itemize, and take only the standard deduction, $12,200. Meaning that at tax time, $8,000 or so will be taxed at the higher 22%, vs 10/12% of the lower brackets.

I'd suggest you consider a mix of traditional and Roth in your company account. At some point, you might have the opportunity to convert to Roth at the 12% rate. Perhaps in a year when you are married, house, kid, etc. You might consider it a small difference, but I'd look at the long term, and see how this might add up over time.

  • 1
    Actually, gap years are great times to convert to Roth. I wish I had done more of that. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 19 '19 at 19:52
4

You are still young in your career and will likely have a number of large ticket expenses that you'll want to save for (like the house you mention). Having short-to-medium term investments to accomplish this goal is a totally normal thing to do. I recommend getting in touch with a CFP that can help you assess your risk tolerance and provide specific advice to your situation.

But if you really did just want to wing it yourself, there's really no reason to be putting so much of your money into long-term savings if you have other goals you'd like to achieve before retirement. Just don't stop all your retirement savings and make a specific plan for when you'll increase your yearly 401k contributions again.

  • Ill probably meet with a CFP to make sure I'm checking all of the boxes but will still probably manage some/most of it myself because I want to learn as much as possible early on. Thanks for the advice! – JoeBo Nov 19 '19 at 17:12
  • 2
    I hope you're not going to TD Ameritrade for that CFP. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 19 '19 at 19:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.