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My family has 4 brokerage accounts: 1 traditional IRA & 1 Roth for both my wife and me. I would like to do a single asset allocation (such as the one below) across the 4 accounts? Is this a good strategy and any tips on managing this effectively if the accounts have widely differing balances (with some below the minimum for some mutual funds):

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I have a similar plan and a similar number of accounts. I think seeking a target asset allocation mix across all investment accounts is an excellent idea.

I use excel to track where I am and then use it to adjust to get closer (but not exactly) to my target percentages.

Until you have some larger balances, it may be prudent to use less categories or realize that you can't come exactly to your percentages, but can get close. I also simplify by primarily investing in various index funds. That means that in my portfolio, each category has 1 or 2 funds, not 10 or 20.

  • do you invest index funds because the expense ratios are too high for mutual funds? – Chirag Patel Dec 18 '10 at 4:31
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I have a similar situation -- five different accounts between me and my wife.

Just as you and @Alex B describe, I maintain my asset allocation across the combination of all accounts. I also maintain a spreadsheet to track the targets, deviations from the targets, amounts required to get back in balance, and overall performance.

I (mostly) don't use mutual funds. I have selected, for each category, 1 or 2 ETFs. Choosing index ETFs with low expense ratios and a brokerage with cheap or free trades keeps expenses low. (My broker offers free ETF trades if you buy off their list as long as you aren't short-term trading; this is great for rebalancing for free 2 or 3 times a year.)

Using ETFs also solves the minimum balance problem -- but watch out for commissions. If you pay $10 to buy $500 worth of an ETF, that's an immediate 2% loss; trade a couple of times a year and that ETF has to gain 5% just to break even.


One issue that comes up is managing cash and avoiding transaction fees. Say your IRA has all the growth stock funds and your Roth has the bonds. Stocks do well and bonds do poorly, so you sell off some stocks, which creates a bunch of cash in your IRA. Now you want to buy some bonds but you don't have enough cash in your Roth, so you buy the bonds in your IRA. Not a problem at first but if you don't manage it you can end up with small amounts of various funds spread across all of your accounts. If you're not careful you can end up paying two commissions (in two different accounts) to sell off / purchase enough of a category to get back to your targets.


Another problem I had is that only one account (401k) is receiving deposits on a regular basis, and that's all going into an S&P 500 index fund. This makes it so that my allocation is off by a fair amount every quarter or so -- too much in large cap equities, not enough of everything else.

My solution to this going forward is to "over-rebalance" a couple of times a year: sell enough SPY from my other accounts so that I'm under-allocated in large caps by the amount I expect to add to my 401k over the next 3 months. (So that in six months at my next rebalancing I'm only 3 months over-allocated to large caps -- plus or minus whatever gains/losses there are.)

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