A month or so ago, while on Facebook a sponsored ad came up on my news feed for Acorns, an investment app that allows you to open an account via your smartphone and in essence, invests your spare change.I was curious so clicked on it and was introduced to a whole new world of robo investing applications that I apparently had missed hearing about when they were first introduced.
For many millennials like myself, investing can seem daunting, and most don’t have the initial large deposits that are required with traditional investment companies in order to use the services of a financial advisor. Our money is going to other things like weddings, starting a family, paying off student loans, mortgages, and hopefully also contributing to a retirement account.
That is why I was intrigued with Acorns, which links to your bank account and invests your spare change from purchases you make every day (essentially, rounding up every purchase to the nearest dollar). There is no minimum deposit and the investment fees are a $1/month for accounts under $5,000 and .25% for accounts over $5,000. However, students and anyone under 24 can invest for free on accounts of any size.
I then came across another investment app called Betterment. Betterment allows you to set up retirement accounts while Acorns does not. Betterment chooses your portfolio for you automatically based on one of the 5 general investment goals you select. Similar to Acorns, you need no initial minimum deposit. The fees are $3 a month, or .35% with a minimum auto deposit of $100 a month. The fees drop to .25% once you exceed $10,000.
Wealthfront is another investment app I looked into that also supports retirement accounts, but does require a minimum account balance of $500. However, there are no annual fees for accounts up to $10,000.
There are many other robo investment companies out there, some with apps, some available via website only. They all utilize similar investment theories for their automated investment guidance based on what you select as your goal or risk profile, which may or may not earn you more than a traditional financial advisor or yourself if you have the skills and time to manage your own investments. Investorjunkie.com provides some great reviews on many of the ones available if you want to give robo investing a try.
The past couple of weeks have produced some interesting headlines for Tesla, with headlines from the last couple of days even driving the price of Tesla’s stock down. On Tuesday, October 20, 2015, Consumer Reports released results from its Annual Auto Reliability Survey which forecasted Tesla’s Model S as likely to have a worse-than-average overall problem rate. This also meant the Model S did not receive Consumer Reports’ recommended designation. This loss of recommended status drove Tesla’s stock price down as much as 11% on Tuesday. There is nuance in Consumer Reports’ write-up of the Model S, though. While there was an assortment of complaints and potential reliability problems listed for the Model S, there was also high satisfaction among the 1,400 survey responses with 97% of owners saying the would definitely buy the car again. Anecdotally, if you read the comments on the Consumer Reports article you will find many a self-proclaimed Tesla owner saying they are quite happy with what they bought.
Then on Wednesday, October 21, 2015, news stories started popping up that Tesla’s recent over-the-air update that brought autopilot to many of its cars is causing close calls for some Tesla owners. Or rather, Tesla owners are causing their own close calls by not fully understanding that this autopilot function is still in beta and is not supposed to be used with your hands off the wheel. This update didn’t turn the Model S into a self-driving car. Hopefully no one injures himself or herself in the pursuit of curiosity.
Lastly, Tesla and the Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ) are in a potentially interesting legal situation with a mix of he said, she said going on. On October 9, an incident occurred out at the Gigafactory where two RGJ employees were caught allegedly trespassing on Tesla owned property, a scuffle of some sort ensued and one of the RGJ employees was arrested by the Storey County Sheriff’s Department. Interestingly, on October 13, Tesla released its version of events which placed all the blame on the RGJ employees (maybe rightfully so) and stated that the security guards responding were injured by the RGJ employees. Then, on October 19, a lawyer for the RGJ, Scott Glogovac, sent a letter to Tesla claiming “[t]his portrayal is scandalous and could not be further from the truth.” Glogovac claims the security guards rammed the RGJ vehicle with an ATV, smashed a window, cut a seatbelt and dragged an RGJ employee from the vehicle. Maybe the RGJ employees weren’t the only ones at fault. Who knows where the truth lies, but this may be an interesting local event to follow.
Now is the time to think about year-end tax planning strategies. While no significant change in tax rates is expected for 2016, there are still year-shifting maneuvers that could be employed if you expect to be in either a higher or lower tax bracket for 2016.
For instance, if you anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year, you should consider delaying sale of assets producing gains, deferring any year-end bonuses and pushing out collection of outstanding accounts receivable. At the same time you should look at accelerating deductions into the current year by prepaying property taxes or January’s mortgage. You might also try to bunch medical and dental expenses into the current year if you expect them to exceed the adjusted gross income floor limitation for both years. Moving future charitable contributions into the current year as well as converting stock losses by selling before year-end should be considered.
On the other hand, if you expect to be in a higher bracket in 2016, the above strategies should be employed in reverse. Accelerate those income items over which you have control into the current year while pushing out deductible expenses until next year.
Again this year, one must keep an eye on the impact of the net investment income tax, which applies if the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds threshold amounts. Those threshold amounts are $250,000 for married filing jointly (and surviving spouses), $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for all others. The tax is 3.8% on the lesser of net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the threshold amounts. To mitigate the impact of this tax one might consider moving income producing investments into tax-exempt bonds, thus lowering MAGI. Since the investment income tax applies to income from passive activities, you should explore whether any steps could be taken to reclassify such income as non-passive.
And, as always, you should make the maximum contributions allowable to retirement plans, especially if your employer makes a matching contribution.