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Everything posted by EdLaFave

  1. That is too strong of a statement, they're the 6th best vendor I've analyzed and on my site I've credited them for being direct, honest, and easy to work with. The problem is the fees. I agree but allow me to quantify it. If I followed AXA's advice, I'd be paying 1.75%, which would consume 65.37% of my real profits over 30 years. If I built a 3 fund portfolio at TIAA, I'd be paying 0.63%, which would consume 26.20% of my real profits over 30 years. ...assumes 6% returns and 3% inflation. ...obviously much better than AXA but it is flat out unacceptable that I'd give up a quarter of my real investment returns to somebody taking on 0% of the risk and offering me absolutely nothing. Their funds are actually priced perfectly, 0.04% - 0.08% for Vanguard's total market index funds. The problem is the 0.58% fee is an annual fee for the pleasure of having a TIAA account! Ugh! From reading your excellent book I now know that but I don't know how they square it with a 0.58% annual charge. Their rep claimed it was OCPS' fault, maybe the rep was right. I don't know the details of how they got where they are.
  2. I don't know what the perfect solution is but I'll share my thoughts. At a high level here are the three main points I like to cover right off the bat: 1. Did you know that virtually all of our vendors charge fees so high that they consume the majority and sometimes all of our real investment returns? 2. If they show interest then I'd suggest that advisers are able to do this because we all assume investing is too complicated to understand but all we need is a single all-in-one fund or 3 individual funds (US stock, international stock, and bonds), which is in fact what most advisers own themselves! 3. If there is still interest then I'd explain I use Security Benefit's NEA DirectInvest to implement the 3 Fund approach and the fees are so low that after 30 years they're expected to cost me roughly 3% of my real returns. From there I'm prepared and enjoy getting into all of the dirty details if they push it in that direction. Otherwise we can keep it high level (fees = bad, 1-3 funds = fully diversified, index > active). Either way I volunteer to walk them through anything and everything. I'll go to people's houses, call, text, email, facebook, walk them through the steps to enroll, make 3-way calls to vendors with them, whatever they want, whenever they want. I do make a point to tell them that I don't fully understand the law and I have a vague impression it is illegal for a "normal" person to provide financial advice. So I can't advise anybody but I can tell you exactly what I did, why I think it was the best choice, and what I'd do in hypothetical situations. You don't sound like you suffer from this the way a lot of people do but I'm pretty adamant about shutting down that emotion/thought process. Nobody is an idiot for getting taken advantage of when it comes to investments. Only a very small minority weren't taken advantage of and they probably had somebody more experienced to guide them. We're not idiots, they're immoral financial predators. 7 vendors will take a while to work through, but I encourage you to do it. Start with the ones your coworkers use the most and work your way down the list. Here is some advice, when they explain all of the details ask to see the official documents to verify what they've said is 100% accurate. Don't accept their requests to call you back or to email it to you. Tell them you've got all day and want to work through it right now with them. Otherwise that official information will probably never find its way to you. Remember when you're dealing with reps, it isn't just about honest vs dishonest, it is also about knowledgeable vs poorly trained and ill-informed. It is easy to want to attribute everything to malevolence but incompetence is a highly probable reason for their behavior too. You'll find there are mixed views on Security Benefit. NEA DirectInvest is objectively awesome, no grey area there. However, adding security benefit means you're adding a vendor that will viciously go after employees and try their best to put them into other explo¡tative plans. I spent countless hours on the phone with Security Benefit transferring from one person to the next and nobody would confirm that NEA DirectInvest was a valid option for me to enroll in. I believe only 3 or 4 people in the entire state of Florida are enrolled (include my wife). If I had to pick the single best vendor for a generic school district with generic employees, it would be Vanguard because: 1. They offer the cheapest 1 fund portfolio (and who knows, some day they might offer admiral variants of those funds), which is probably what is best for the vast majority of educators. People like me who prefer the 3 fund portfolio will wind up paying an extra 0.10% than we'd have to pay at Fidelity or Security Benefit's NEA DirectInvest but it is a sacrifice for the common good. 2. Every time I or anybody I've known has spoken to Vanguard they've gotten EXCELLENT financial advice. I know that wouldn't be the case at Security Benefit and I'm not sure about Fidelity but they worry me because they offer a ton of really awful funds in addition to their excellent low cost, total market index funds. 3. I believe in rewarding THE company who has fought for investors. I think that company culture is more likely to take care of educators than not.
  3. Well you'd have to take the time to look into each plan to make a definitive statement. I feel more than comfortable making the following declarations about our plans at OCPS... Security Benefit's NEA DirectInvest allows you to build a completely diversified 3 fund portfolio with rock bottom costs. The other plans based on mutual funds are clearly inferior because they charge more and most also offer inferior funds. What about the annuities that offer a guaranteed return, could somebody argue those plans are best for people who are VERY risk averse? Well the guarnateed returns for these annuities are far lower than a 100% bond fund is expected to return. So it doesn't make any sense to accept subpar guaranteed returns with the possibility of surrender fees when you can have a super safe 100% bond portfolio. So yeah, I feel incredibly confident when I say Security Benefit's NEA DirectInvest is hands down the best plan at OCPS, I suspect you'll find the same pattern when/if you dig into all of the details. Imagine a district had Vanguard, Fidelity, and Security Benefit's NEA DirectInvest, it would be quite difficult to definitively claim one is superior to another. Your investment preference (1 fund vs 3 funds) will dictate which vendor is cheapest. Either way the expenses for all of these vendors are so low that picking the "best" vendor based on which company you philosophically align with, who has the better web site, and other personal preferences isn't at all unreasonable. Unfortunately, my district isn't blessed with such excellent vendors and I suspect neither is yours. I'm hoping one day you'll do some investigative reporting and get to the bottom of this one because I simply don't believe this is true. I'm curious to know if people are misunderstanding the plan or if the rep has reached expert levels of immorality and is flat out lying to people. It would be easy, call the rep up or meet with him and push for every detail. Present yourself as a potential customer (if this likely fictitious world of guaranteed 6% returns actually exists then you probably are a potential customer) and you'll get the bottom of it. I imagine every district does things differently. Here at OCPS we have what is called a "fringe committee" that gets together once every five years to decide which vendors will be allowed to participate in the 403(b)/457(b) plans. Our fringe committe has people from the district (head of retirement services, director of risk management, etc), people from the instructional staff union (I'm not even sure they send somebody), and people from the non-instructional staff union (I'm not even sure they send somebody). People speak highly of TIAA around here but I'll just say it, I'm opposed to them. Are they better than AXA? Sure, but that is a low bar. TIAA charges a 0.58% yearly fee. I find that to be unacceptable. There may be nuggets of truth in what the AXA rep has told you, I don't know the gory details. But whatever they are, Vanguard and Fidelity are in many districts in Florida so it is quite possible to add them. I studied all of the districts in Florida and I came up with a Top 5 of Vanguard, Fidelity, Security Benefit (specifically for NEA DirectInvest), ASPIRE (specifically for their self directed option), and PlanMember Services (specifically for their self directed option). I broke down each of these plans on my site: https://educatorsfightingforfairness.wordpress.com/floridas-best-403b-457b-vendors
  4. With regards to not understanding why people fear for their jobs/careers... I talk a lot about the 403b/457b scheme as a sophisticated, clever trap that was designed specifically with educators in mind. At least in Florida, the state has pushed the "model plan", which couldn't be more ironically named. Districts go through a formal process to hand pick a select group of vendors. Principals are the CEOs of their schools with absolute authority to allow or deny the vendors access to campus. So the entire public school system (principal, benefits department, superintendent, school board, and state representatives) is standing behind, endorsing, and helping these vendors. It is entirely reasonable to think that fighting against exploìtative vendors is, by proxy, fighting against the entire power structure of the public school system. Our good friend, Steve Banks from TSA Consulting Group, has already vaguely threatened me with some kind of legal liability associated with teaching people about these retirement plans (I of course told him I'd never stop). Intimidation is alive and well both in implicit and explicit forms. With regards to being polite... It is easy to let anger take over. Very easy. Still, I don't try to stamp out my anger. I intentionally try to keep my anger alive and well, but in a controlled way. Without anger I'd probably walk away from this whole thing because my investments are just fine. However, it is important to keep that anger hidden and internal almost 100% of the time. I don't want people to see my rage, I want them to see the deeper principles that cause my rage. I want them to see how fundamentally unfair it is that educators are being viciously exploìted. I want to appeal to their sense of humanity. I want to appeal to their sense of right and wrong, their sense of morality. These forces have the potential to convert a would be enemy to an ally, but anger/rudeness would only push them further away.
  5. My thoughts on assessing risk without having been through a crash with skin in the game: Really try to imagine what it is like. Imagine half of your life savings disappears over a short period of time. Maybe that represents 10-15 years worth of contributions? How will you feel when you look back at all of the years of blood, sweat, and tears only to realize that you have nothing to show for it? How will you feel when you project into the future and realize your retirement just got pushed back a decade, perhaps with a lower standard of living? How will you feel every pay period when you dump money into the stock market only to watch it plummet in value almost immediately? Now imagine all of the articles and tv shows you'll see with "experts" yelling about financial armageddon and how the very fabric of our economy has been destroyed. How much will that add to your fear? Then think about the worst "experts" of all who will present all of these fancy plans that "prove" you can avoid the financial crises if you just follow their advice. Then think about your friends, family, and coworkers some of which will inevitably sell out of the market and save themselves from the most recent drop...and they'll tell you about it. How much fear will this stoke? Will you abandon your plan? Will you be able to sleep at night? Then imagine you lose your job because of the economic downturn. Now you're burning through your emergency fund and may wind up living with the bitter taste that comes with selling stocks at a low point just to pay the bills. Every recruiter tells you there are no jobs. Every company ignores your application. How will you feel then? Will you still stick to your plan? Go through that exercise and honestly reflect on who you are. Remember it isn't just about coming out ahead financially...what is the emotional toll worth? Super aggressive portfolios are great if you've got ice in your veins and cold logic in your mind (I like to think I do) but they're disastrous if you're wrong. A subset of people claim the "bonus" you get from selling bonds to buy stocks at a low point outweigh the drag associated with owning bonds (a lower performing asset). They claim a stock/bond split isn't just about risk mitigation but it is about "buying low and selling high", a myth we should generally dispel and reject because it leads to behavioral errors. I may be 100% wrong but I think adding 10% increases risk adjusted returns, not absolute returns. I also think you can find relatively short periods in history where holding some portion of bonds increased absolute returns...but I think those period are in the minority and disappear entirely with sufficiently long time horizons (15-20 years?).
  6. For several years I've asked but nobody has been able to show me the math that supports the much talked about "rebalance bonus". Every time I've done the math the "bonus" from buying stock during a crash is outweighed by the drag from holding bonds when stocks aren't crashing. From what I can tell these two assets aren't perfectly miscorrelated (?) in terms of magnitude or timing. If I invented two assets where one went up at the same time and degree as the other went down then I see a "rebalance" bonus that generates profit. I believe this is a story people like to tell themselves as they talk themselves into holding more bonds (which may be exactly what they need).
  7. That is a completely reasonable portfolio and asset allocation, congrats! A 50% drop in stocks will result in a roughly 40% loss.
  8. With regards to international stock vs US stock, sticking to your decision is far more important than what you choose. To give some context: US represents about 55% of the world market. Vanguard Target Date funds have 60% US and 40% international. I believe Buffett and Bogle have suggested 100% US is fine. I personally prefer diversification but I am susceptible to the argument that so many US companies are global and the US fund is nearly a third as expensive to own.
  9. With regards to bonds it is a really personal question that only you can answer. This is what I said on my site https://educatorsfightingforfairness.wordpress.com/investing-101 The most important choice you'll make is deciding what percentage of your portfolio should be allocated to bonds. Bonds will reduce your expected returns but they'll buy you stability, peace of mind, and lower the likelihood of behavioral errors like selling during a crash only to reenter the market after the recovery. These mistakes can be far more disastrous than paying high fees. Our personal approach is to recognize that stocks can lose half their value over night and take many years to recover. After serious introspection, ask yourself how much you can emotionally and financially "afford" to lose in that scenario. If your answer were 37.5% then you'd use the formula (100 - 37.5 * 2) to calculate that 25% of your portfolio should be allocated to bonds.
  10. I'll make it even simpler! Choose a category and move on with your life... 3 Fund Portfolio Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX) Vanguard Total International Stock Index (VTIAX) Vanguard Total Bond Market Index (VBTLX) 1 Fund That Automatically Buys More Bonds As You Approach Retirement Vanguard Target Retirement 2020 Fund (VTWNX) Vanguard Target Retirement 2035 Fund (VTTHX) Vanguard Target Retirement 2060 Fund (VTTSX) 1 Fund That Keeps The Stock/Bond Mix Constant Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX) Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund (VSMGX) Vanguard LifeStrategy Conservative Growth Fund (VSCGX) Vanguard LifeStrategy Income Fund (VASIX)
  11. I tried to get information from Valic but they literally told me they aren't able to provide any information for the OCPS plan. It ended awkwardly with me telling them to call me back if they decide they want to tell me about their plan(s). I found this to be shocking, they obviously worked to be a vendor but they wouldn't tell a potential customer about their products. How does this make any business sense? On 403bcompare it looks like there are 7+ plans for Valic. I've found that here in OCPS, vendors often only offer a limited set of the plans they offer nationally. What vendors are available in your district?
  12. You've got to do what you're comfortable with but if it were me... I'd quickly get all of the details on the plan so I know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. I'd tell everybody about how and why it is bad...ASAP. I'd also tell them about the best plan(s) and how and why it is great. I'd talk with my wife beforehand so I do this in the most tactful way possible rather than an overly blunt/harsh style that sometimes comes too naturally to me. I'm curious to know if they simply walked away with the idea that "AXA is bad" or if they walked away with the idea that these vendors are deceitful sharks that charge us super high fees and can't be trusted. I'm guessing it was the former. I often find myself saying, "let me use AXA as an example, but don't think they're any worse than the rest of them."
  13. My instincts say there is no chance of a guaranteed six percent return. Maybe they guarantee 6% returns and hit you with 4.5% fees. Maybe the 6% return is somehow limited to your first contribution or to the first month a contribution is made. There has to be a catch because it is literally too good to be true.
  14. So it looks like the fiduciary rule is in partial effect but full effect is delayed until January when more people have had an opportunity to butcher it. So what does it mean to be in 'partial' effect? It looks like this was never meant to help teachers with their retirement plans though, right? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2017/06/09/long-awaited-retirement-savings-rule-takes-effect-for-now/?utm_term=.3429d3000ddd
  15. I'm in this for the long haul, my thoughts on the matter are a strange mixture of zen and cold engineering... I went down this road because I believe we're all connected and have a responsibility to each other. Before I made the decision to get involved I estimated a near 0% chance of having a large or systemic impact and a near 100% chance of having a big impact on a small number of people (mission already accomplished). I try my best to fully recognize, without emotional attachment, all of the human characteristics that have led us to where we are today... 1. I don't boil in rage over the greed and ill-intent of financial institutions. 2. I don't become discouraged when educators are resistant to help. 3. I don't become frustrated with whatever is stopping school districts from doing the right thing. Still not entirely sure what is going on there. I just accept these things as the current reality that may or may not ever change. I clearly prefer for them to change but I recognize that I cannot simply will that end result into being. So becoming emotionally attached to the end result only invites suffering on my end. I can however celebrate small wins and continue playing my small role so if the right circumstances fall into place then we might all enjoy a big win.
  16. I love to hate that quote! I guess us commoners will never appreciate the endless labor that goes into a single "Fund of Funds" or the "3 Fund Portfolio". Of course their definition of "better adviser" doesn't include the client's best interest. It matches my experience with AXA exactly! I wrote about my experiences with OCPS' bad vendors here (AXA included) https://educatorsfightingforfairness.wordpress.com/inferior-ocps-403b-457b-plans ...by far AXA was the most frustrating to talk to. When I first contacted AXA I told them all I wanted was information on fees and to understand the investments we'd be in. They gave me none of that in our first conversation. I spent 10 days fighting and clawing for that data. At least the other exploìtative vendors didn't so blatantly ignore direct questions. Oh, the pride I'd feel if my wife fired off that question. I love it, she did a great job! It is important to stick with what makes you comfortable, 100%. Personally I feel fine laying out facts, data, and logic to demonstrate why AXA, active management, etc are inferior to Vanguard, 3 Fund Portfolio, etc. I've got no problem sharing what vendors I think are the best and why I think that. I share what my wife and I have or would do and exactly how we'd do it. But I never tell people what to do, that is 100% up to them...I just share my understanding and experience with people and I always try to present myself as a fallible human being but one without a conflict of interest.
  17. I don't expect as many people to respond to simply being shown the problem and the general resources to look for a solution. I expect them to want an easy solution to be presented to them...and somebody to guide them through it. I think you'll get a better response if you identify the best plan and exactly how to enroll (down to how to fill out the forms and select the investments). At least that's what I've tried to do, who knows? ...still I'm surprised you got such a small response. Disappointing.
  18. I don't have an answer but at risk of repeating what you already know, this is where I'd start: 1. Figure out what tax bracket I'm currently in. 2. Estimate my spending needs in retirement. 3. Figure out what tax bracket the expected pension, expected social security, expected withdrawls from the traditional accounts, etc. will put me in during retirement. 4. Recognize there is uncertainty with the tax code in the future. I'd aim to have enough in the traditional so that in retirement I fill up the tax bracket I'm currently in. If I expect to hit that point then I'd put the rest in a Roth. For me personally, my gut (without precise calculations) suggests, with a fair amount of confidence, that I won't be in a higher tax bracket in retirement.
  19. What we need more than anything is to spread knowledge. It is tempting to hope for government/organizations to swoop in and fix things for everybody because it would be an instantaneous, universal, clean solution. But I just don't think that is realistic. I think we need a massive push from ordinary people, which is where the real power for change exists. As discouraging as it can be to see the Fiduciary rule being butchered, I think we're still winning. The decades of work Vanguard has put in has fundamentally changed the landscape and things are only accelerating. Teachers may be behind the curve and face bigger challenges because they don't have access to all vendors but education can change that too.
  20. They came from Bogle's book. Pretty sure it was https://www.amazon.com/Little-Book-Common-Sense-Investing/dp/0470102101
  21. In 2005 John Bogle took a look back at the 355 mutual funds that existed in 1970 and I found the results to be both simple and compelling: 223 funds (62.8%) were closed before 2005. 60 funds (16.9%) lagged the market by 1% or more. 48 funds (13.5%) were within +/- 1% of the market. 15 funds (4.2%) beat the market by 1-2%. 9 funds (2.5%) beat the market by 2% or more.
  22. I'm not breaking new ground here but I wrote a quick blog to try to remind educators that advisers are legally allowed to (and regularly do) put their own interests ahead of educators'. https://educatorsfightingforfairness.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/conflict-of-interest-adviser-vs-client
  23. In my personal experience with OCPS (FL): We never attached an agent to our Security Benefit's NEA DirectInvest 403b. The district pushed us very hard to get an agent's signature but the agent showed up and tried to enroll my wife in an entirely different program. You can see the steps we went through here: https://educatorsfightingforfairness.wordpress.com/set-up-your-ocps-403b-457b OCPS (FL) has us under the very strong impression that you cannot sign up with a vendor outside of the vendors that they selected. They've told us several false things so I have reason to doubt everything they say, but in this case I believe them.My initial feeling is that if a district isn't going to properly vet vendors to make sure they're operating in the employee's best interest (and they aren't) then it sure would be nice to fill out a form with any vendor and the district would be forced to accept.
  24. I'm starting to see a recurring argument where it is claimed that expensive sales reps increase participation rates in 403b and 457b plans. The argument goes on to claim that people participating in their 403b/457b who otherwise wouldn't have been are in better shape even when you account for the high fees. I have my own passionate response to this but I'd like to read others' thoughts. If anybody has links to any data that would support or refute this claim then I'd like to read up on it: Under what conditions are they claiming increased participation and to what degree? Has a sales rep laden system ever been compared against a school with a single low cost vendor offering target date funds who uses a Retirement Services department that actually reaches out to employees? If people aren't participating in their 403b/457b how do we know they're "blowing" the money? How do we know they aren't investing in real estate or a taxable, hsa, ira, 529, etc. plan? How is this claim accounting for the obvious harm being done to people who would have participated even if there were 0 sales reps?
  25. I've noticed a general pattern...whenever ordinary people fight for and sometimes even receive a fair shake, they're quickly called communists (a now meaningless 4 letter word) intent on destroying the fabric of capitalism (a now meaningless word that essentially replaces 'America'). I'm personally not worried about indexing destroying our ability to 'properly' value companies. I believe human greed, ingenuity, and arbitrage will quickly address that issue when and if it occurs...a balance will be found. Still, if there are legit problems with indexing these guys aren't doing themselves any favors because I (and I assume most people) stop listening the moment we're compared to Marxists.
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