Tag Archives: fees


Investment Fees Matter, But Taxes Matter Even More

For more than 40 years, our Chief Investment Officer Burt Malkiel has been telling investors that you can’t outperform the market, so you should buy index funds and focus on the three things over which you do have control: minimizing fees, minimizing taxes and staying diversified. Minimizing fees gets a lot of attention from personal finance bloggers, but minimizing taxes gets almost none. That’s because these tax-minimization strategies are often hard to understand and even harder to put into practice, and thus have mainly been used by high net worth individuals who are serviced by well-paid financial advisors. And that’s bad news for the portfolios of average investors like yourself, because as I will show in this article, taking steps […]

America’s $13.2 Trillion Problem

Every year, millions of investors open their brokerage statements and feel a wave of anxiety as they attempt to figure out how much they are really paying in fees. The challenge is it’s almost impossible to tell. One thing we can be sure of is investors are paying way too much in fees. State Street and Boston Consulting Group data estimates that US investors paid over $277 Billion in fees to manage their investments in 2014, and that doesn’t include advisory or maintenance fees. If this continues, investors could lose an estimated $13.2 trillion to fees alone over the next 30 years. That’s $13.2 trillion that could be used to buy new homes, pay for college educations or fund retirements. […]

Are You Invested the Right Way for 2016?

As we draw to the close of another year, it’s common for investors to ask themselves, “am I invested the right way for the long term?” Unfortunately, too often we lack access to the data that could help answer that question. Fortunately, Wealthfront is in a unique position. We have seen what thousands of people’s portfolios looked like before they were transferred to us and reinvested in tax-efficient, low-cost, globally-diversified portfolios. Being a data-driven company, we’ve created metrics to analyze the fees, composition and diversification of the transferred portfolios. What we see is troubling. Fewer than one in ten of the transferred portfolios were properly built. 92% of the portfolios reviewed were challenged by some combination of high fees, cash drag […]

Fees Can Destroy Your Return

In an environment where a diversified portfolio is only expected to return on the order of 6% annually, any fees will have a significant impact on your outcome. In the same way that investing for the long-term takes advantage of the power of compounding, the regular or recurring fees you pay reduces the overall potential of your portfolio. To illustrate the point, here’s an example from the SEC on its own fee fact sheet: If you invested $10,000 in a fund that produced a 10% annual return before expenses and had annual operating expenses of 1.5%, then after 20 years you would have roughly $49,725. But if the fund had expenses of only 0.5%, then you would end up with […]

Indexing and the 2014 “Stock-Picker’s” Market

In January of this year it was widely believed 2014 would be a “stock-picker’s” market. While the S&P 500® index of large U.S. stocks produced an extremely generous return of more than 30% in 2013, an indexing strategy was deemed unlikely to be effective in 2014 — or so active managers argued in an attempt to justify their high fees. While several months remain we can still take a preliminary look at the results. The stock market was not quite as favorable this year as it was last year. The S&P 500 produced a rate of return of only  about 7% during the first six months of 2014. But did active managers finally demonstrate their superior skills? The answer is […]

Smart Beta

Fads and fashions have always been part of the financial markets. Around the turn of the century Internet-related stocks were regarded as reliable instruments for growing and preserving wealth. During the early 2000s, real estate was the instrument of choice for savvy investors. Today “Smart Beta” is the mantra of legions of securities salesmen who claim that broad-based low-cost index funds are sub-optimal and that better results can be obtained by biasing portfolios toward a number of characteristics that promise higher returns. There is no universally accepted definition of “Smart Beta.” What most people using the term have in mind is that it may be possible to gain excess (greater than market) returns using a variety of relatively passive investment […]

Why Whole Life Insurance Is A Bad Investment

When you have children, many people tell you it’s important to buy life insurance to protect your family. You’ll have two options: Term Life Insurance. Term life is a life insurance product that covers a limited term in return for a constant monthly premium over the covered term. For someone who is 30 years old, premiums can be less than $75 per month. Whole Life Insurance. Whole life is a hybrid investment and insurance product that covers you until death. For someone who is 30 years old,  the premiums can be less than $800 per month, and they don’t change over the life of the policy.[1] Whole life insurance is a more complicated product than term life insurance. Like universal life or […]

Five Ways ETFs Surpass Index Funds

We often get the question from clients: What is the difference between an index fund and an ETF? Even people who understand ETFs don’t understand the difference between these two kinds of investment products. We believe ETFs are index funds, evolved. To understand why ETFs represent such an advance over index funds, you have to look a little deeper than the most basic explanation of the difference between them. Financial advisors will tell you that an ETF is different from an index fund because it trades like a stock, throughout the day. Index funds, which are a kind of mutual fund, can only be purchased or sold at the end of the day after market close. Most ETFs, like most […]

The Case Against Maxing Out Your 401(k)

2012 IPOs: High Expectations, No Assurances

Most every personal finance blog I have ever read recommends maxing out your 401(k) contribution. They tell you to “just do it” – contribute as much as you can, as early as you can. I couldn’t disagree more. Forced savings I believe most bloggers (and many financial planners and low-quality investment advisors) recommend maximizing 401(k) contributions as a way to enforce a savings discipline. They believe that without automatic deductions, people won’t save at all. Our readership tends to be pretty disciplined and intelligent in their approach toward their finances, so I don’t think they need such a brute force recommendation. For our clients and readers, we emphasize transparency, rational decision-making and the use of mathematical tools. We recognize how […]

Why Your 401(k) Plan Sucks

A recent study found that the average fee on a 401(k) retirement plan was an appalling .93% of assets. The fees in the most expensive 10% of plans were even more shocking: 1.72% of assets.  That’s huge in an environment where most people hope to earn annual returns of 6% before fees. The average 401(k), meanwhile, offers 15-20 choices of funds, which have higher expense ratios than those you would find if you were buying through a brokerage for your IRA. A typical lineup: Many actively managed mutual funds, a handful of passively managed index funds, and very few ETFs. If you’re an educated investor, this sounds familiar. You always suspected you were paying a lot in fees, even though […]