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Healthcare and Dependent Care FSA Check-up Reminder (Average Loss $157)

Thu, 10/21/2021 - 13:51

As we head into the last few months of 2021, this is a reminder to check on your Healthcare and Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA). This NYT article outlines some temporary changes this year, while also revealing that nearly half of all FSA participants have lost some amount of their contributions, with a median lost balance of $157.

Healthcare FSA carryover allowance for 2021 into 2022.

Employers may allow a “full” carry-over of remaining balances for next year — up to the total balance in the worker’s F.S.A. So if you had $1,000 in your account at the end of this year, you could carry it all over into 2022. (The usual carry-over limit is $550.)

Masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and at-home COVID tests are FSA eligible expenses. See official IRS notice. The Amazon FSA and HSA Store accepts your FSA/HSA debit card for hassle-free reimbursements and is also an easy way to find eligible items that may be useful to you.

The accounts can be used for medical care and co-payments, nonprescription drugs, and a variety of health-related services, products and supplies, including menstrual pads and tampons, breast pumps, contact lenses and lens solution.

And the I.R.S. recently clarified that masks, hand sanitizer and other items that protect against the spread of Covid-19 are eligible for reimbursement. At-home Covid tests also qualify, the I.R.S. said, because “the cost to diagnose Covid-19 is an eligible medical expense for tax purposes.”

Dependent Care FSA carryover allowance for 2021 into 2022..

Under a temporary pandemic relief change, however, all funds in dependent care accounts may be rolled over into 2022 — if the employer chooses to allow it.

Balance carryover extensions are thus possible but still require your employer’s approval, so check with your HR department first.

I hate wasting potential tax savings, but this is another year of struggling with my Dependent Care FSA benefits provider over reimbursement approvals. FSA “stores” made some things easier, but many childcare providers simply aren’t used to providing detailed, itemized receipts like Amazon or Walgreens.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

Healthcare and Dependent Care FSA Check-up Reminder (Average Loss $157) from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2004-2021 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

Hanscom Federal CU Thrive Review: 5.00% APY Saving Habit Builder and Maintainer

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 14:34

Hanscom Federal Credit Union (HFCU) has hiked back up the rate on their CU Thrive account to 5.00% APY, which is a capped certificate of deposit that rewards consistent saving. The rate is set for 12 months, and during those 12 months you can transfer up to $500 every month from a HFCU checking account. No monthly fees. However, you cannot make any withdrawals during those 12 months, or you will be subject to an early withdrawal penalty of 90 days interest.

This product is not meant for big balances. Instead, it is meant to encourage the creation AND maintenance of a modest savings habit. 5.00% APY is more than 10 times what the top “high-yield” savings accounts offer right now.

How much interest can I earn? At 5% APY, if you maxed out this account and set aside the full $500 a month for 12 months, at the end you’d have put in $6,000 and earned about $150 in interest by the end of the year (~$162 if you made every transfer on the 1st of the each month by my quick calculations). $6,000 also happens to be just about the same amount as a full Roth IRA contribution (hint hint) or the foundation of a solid emergency fund.

At the end of the 12 months, all accrued savings plus earned dividends will be transferred into your primary savings account. It will NOT automatically renew at maturity. Each member can only have one CU Thrive account open at one time, but after one 12-month period ends you can open up another one to keep up the savings habit (assuming it is still offered). Full disclosure (PDF).

Eligibility details. To open a CU Thrive account, you must first open an HFCU checking account in addition to the savings account required for all members. HFCU offers a free checking account with no direct deposit and no minimum balance requirement. HFCU membership is open to active duty or retired military along with many other groups (see application), but anyone can also join the Air Force Association, Paul Revere Chapter for a one-time $20 fee and be eligible. On the application, choose the option “I am a member of or will be joining a sponsoring member organization.” You must also keep $25 in the share savings account as long as you are a member.

New refer-a-friend program. HFCU has a referral program which offers an additional $30 cash bonus after your new savings and checking accounts are open and in good standing for 90 days. The referring member gets $30 as well. If you would like a referral from me, please me send your full name, e-mail address, the text “HFCU referral” via my contact form. I will use this information only to fill out their referral form.

Account opening process (from a few years ago). I started the online application and had to provide the usual personal information and then answer questions based on my credit report to verify my identity. Based on my free credit monitoring, they did not perform a hard pull on my credit report. You can fund with an online bank transfer but they also gave me the option to fund with credit card up to $2,000 (not sure if this is still an option today). They didn’t mention if this would be considered a cash advance or not, but it showed up as a purchase for me. Finally, you must print out, sign, and mail in a signature card. You can also open an account in-person. All of their physical branches appear to be located in Massachusetts.

My 1-year experience. I had set the maximum $500 to be transferred every month to my CU Thrive account from my HFCU Checking account. I made 11 transfers but missed one because my checking balance was too low on the date of automatic transfer. My fault. When that happens, the account basically just skips the transfer. There is no penalty, you just don’t get to add that money to the account. I called them but they said there was no way to replace that transfer, even if I moved more money into the checking account a day later. Other than that, everything went very smoothly and I was paid my interest as promised. At the 1-year maturity date, the funds were automatically transferred to my HFCU savings account and the CU Thrive no longer shows up on my online account page. I can now open up another CU Thrive account, if I wish.

I also discovered that Hanscom Federal has paid a Loyalty Dividend to its Credit Union members for over 20 consecutive years. When I had this account, I earned another $1.57 in bonus loyalty dividends on top of my $78.46 of interest earned.

In addition to the CU Thrive and free checking options, HFCU also has a Kasasa Cash Checking account that offers up to 1.00% APY on balances up to $15,000 if you make at least 12 debit card or credit card purchases per month, complete at least 1 ACH Credit/Direct deposit per month, and enroll in online statements. This isn’t the highest Kasasa rate available nationwide, but if you’re already a member, it may be convenient.

Bottom line. The CU Thrive account is a good option for people looking to build up a savings habit, with 5.00% APY for 12 months. However, the system really works best if you use HFCU’s free checking as your primary checking account. (You may also consider their Kasasa Cash checking account with higher interest but debit card activity requirements.) Juggling it as an external savings account is perfectly possible, but you have to keep on top of your transfers to avoid idle cash earning zero interest. I received all of the interest promised, the customer service was nice and polite when contacted, and any errors were my own.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

Hanscom Federal CU Thrive Review: 5.00% APY Saving Habit Builder and Maintainer from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2004-2021 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

5% Cash Back Cards: Walmart, PayPal, Amazon.com, Target.com – October through December 2021

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 01:38

Added new Chase Freedom Flex offer. The credit cards below offer up to 5% cash back on specific categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but it can add up to hundreds of dollars in additional rewards per year without changing your spending habits. You can also buy gift cards at places with 5% back now but spend the gift cards later. New cardmembers may also get an upfront sign-up bonus.

Chase Freedom Flex Card

From October 1st through December 31st, 2021 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Walmart including Walmart Discount Stores, SuperCenters, Neighborhood Markets, Walmart.com, Walmart branded gas stations operated by Walmart, and Walmart Pay.
  • PayPal purchases paid using your Freedom Flex. Friends and Family or Person-to-Person (P2P) transactions are excluded.

(The categories are also the same for the old Chase Freedom card, which is no longer available to new applicants.)

(Added: Chase is also adding a “Top Spend Category Bonus” where you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1500 in total spend in the eligible rewards category where you spend the most from October 1 – December 31, 2021. See link for details on the stacking possibilities.)

Enroll each quarter online in your Chase account or at ChaseBonus.com. As long as you activate by December 14th, the rewards are retroactive. Technically, you earn Ultimate Rewards points which can also be converted to airline miles or hotel points instead of cash if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card. You could also use the Pay Yourself Back tool to get 25% to 50% more than 1 cent/point value. Currently, the Chase Freedom Flex card is offering new applicants a $200 bonus if you sign up and make $500 in purchases in your first three months. No annual fee.

Discover it Card

From October 1st through December 31st, 2021, you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Amazon.com
  • Walmart.com
  • Target.com

Enroll after logging into your online account (look on the right-hand side). 5% rewards won’t apply until after you activate your rewards, so it is best to activate now before you forget. No annual fee.

Discover it $100 bonus details. If you are a new applicant and sign up via my Discover Card referral link, you will get a $50 improved $100 Cashback Bonus after your first purchase within 3 months of being account opening. You will also get Cashback Match for an entire year – a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. During those 12 months, your 5% cash back rewards becomes 10% cash back, and your 1% cash back rewards become 2% cash back. You can verify this on the application by looking under “Terms and Conditions” or searching for “cashback match” and “statement credit offer”:

Cashback Match: We’ll match all the cash back rewards you’ve earned on your credit card from the day your new account is approved through your first 12 consecutive billing periods or 365 days, whichever is longer, and add it to your rewards account within two billing periods.

* You will receive a $100 Statement Credit after making a purchase that posts to your account within three months of account opening. You must apply through your friend’s referral link and be approved by December 31, 2021 in order to be eligible for the $100 Statement Credit offer. Offer may not be combined with any other introductory offer. Promotional award will be applied within 8 weeks.

American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card.

  • 6% cash back at US supermarkets all year long (on up to $6,000 per year)
  • 6% cash back at select US streaming subscriptions (includes Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Netflix, Sling, Vudu, Fubo TV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube TV, and more).
  • 3% cash back at US gas stations and transit (taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).

I use this card all year long for groceries and put all my streaming services on it, and then in December use up the $6k annual limit on gift cards bought in the supermarket aisle. New cardholders are also eligible for a sizeable welcome offer. See details in link.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. You must choose the two 5% cash back categories every quarter, out of a preset selection of specific categories:

  • Fast Food
  • Cell Phone Providers
  • Home Utilities
  • Ground Transportation
  • Select Clothing Stores
  • Electronics Stores
  • Car Rentals
  • Gyms/Fitness Centers
  • Sporting Goods Stores
  • Department Stores
  • Furniture Stores
  • Movie Theaters
  • TV, Internet, and Streaming Services

Unfortunately, you can’t pick a broad category like gas stations, restaurants, or grocery stores. Make sure to choose your categories each and every quarter, even if you want them to stay the same. If you do not choose your categories, all purchases revert to only earning 1% cash back for that quarter. No annual fee.

Amazon Prime Rewards Card. Earn 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods all year long. Prime membership required. New cardholder bonus varies by person. No annual fee.

Citi Custom Cash Card. This new card offers 5% cash back on your top eligible spending category up to $500 spent each month. The maximum amount of $500 per month is less than the $1,500 per month of many cards above, but the category shifts according to your spending. You could, for example, only use this card for gas all year long.

Citi Dividend Card. This card is no longer available to new applicants, but if you still have the grandfathered card you can view and activate your quarterly 5% category here. Limit of $300 cash back for the calendar year.

Don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer. Get 2% cash back or higher. Check out the card-specific reviews for details.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

5% Cash Back Cards: Walmart, PayPal, Amazon.com, Target.com – October through December 2021 from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2004-2021 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

MMB Portfolio Update October 2021 (Q3): Dividend and Interest Income

Mon, 10/18/2021 - 18:23

While my 3rd Quarter 2021 portfolio asset allocation is designed for total return, I also track the income produced quarterly. Stock dividends are the portion of profits that businesses have decided they don’t need to reinvest into their business. The dividends may suffer some short-term drops, but over the long run they have grown faster than inflation.

I track the “TTM” or “12-Month Yield” from Morningstar, which is the sum of the trailing 12 months of interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) plus any capital gains distributed over the same period. (ETFs rarely have to distribute capital gains.) I prefer this measure because it is based on historical distributions and not a forecast. Below is a rough approximation of my portfolio (2/3rd stocks and 1/3rd bonds).

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (Taken 10/17/21) Yield Contribution US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX) 25% 1.28% 0.32% US Small Value
Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF (VBR) 5% 1.67% 0.08% International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX) 25% 2.56% 0.64% Emerging Markets
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) 5% 2.25% 0.11% US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX) 6% 2.65% 0.16% Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury ETF (VGIT) 17% 1.18% 0.20% Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities ETF (VTIP) 17% 2.26% 0.38% Totals 100% 1.89%

 

Trailing 12-month yield history. Here is a chart showing how this 12-month trailing income rate has varied since I started tracking it in 2014.

Maintaining perspective on portfolio value. One of the things I like about using this number is that when stock prices drop, this percentage metric usually goes up – which makes me feel better in a bear market. When stock prices go up, this percentage metric usually goes down, which keeps me from getting too euphoric during a bull market.

Here’s a related quote from Jack Bogle (source):

The true investor will do better if he forgets about the stock market and pays attention to his dividend returns and to the operating results of his companies.

Absolute dividend income. This quarter’s trailing income yield of 1.89% is still near the all-time lows since 2014. At the same time, both the portfolio value and the absolute income produced is higher than in 2014. If you retired back in 2014 and have been living off your stock/bond portfolio, you’ve been doing fine.

Here is the historical growth of the S&P 500 absolute dividend, updated as of Q3 2021 (source):

This means that if you owned enough of the S&P 500 to produce an annual dividend income of about $13,000 a year in 1999, then today those same shares would be worth a lot more AND your annual dividend income would have increased to over $50,000 a year, even if you had spent every penny of dividend income every year.

As a result, I prefer looking at absolute income produced rather than portfolio value or dividend yield percentages. Total income goes up much more gradually and consistently, encouraging me as I keep plowing more of my savings into more stock purchases. I imagine them as a factory that just churns out more dollar bills.

via GIPHY

Big picture and rules of thumb. If you are not close to retirement, there is not much use worrying about these decimal points. Your time is better spent focusing on earning potential via better career moves, improving in your skillset, and/or looking for entrepreneurial opportunities where you can have an ownership interest.

I support the common 4% or 3% rule of thumb, which equates to a target of accumulating roughly 25 to 30 times your annual expenses. I would lean towards a 3% withdrawal rate if you want to retire young (before age 50) and a 4% withdrawal rate if retiring at a more traditional age (closer to 65). Build in some spending flexibility to make your portfolio more resilient in the real world, and that’s perfectly good goal to put on your wall.

How we handle this income. Our dividends and interest income are not automatically reinvested. I treat this money as part of our “paycheck”. Then, as with a traditional paycheck, we can choose to either spend it or invest it again. Even if still working, you could use this money to cut back working hours, pursue new interests, start a new business, spend more time with your family and loved ones, travel, perform charity or volunteer work, and so on. This is your one life and it only lasts about 4,000 weeks.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

MMB Portfolio Update October 2021 (Q3): Dividend and Interest Income from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2004-2021 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

MMB Portfolio Update October 2021 (Q3): Asset Allocation & Performance

Mon, 10/18/2021 - 01:00

Here’s my quarterly update on my current investment holdings as of October 2021, including our 401k/403b/IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts but excluding our house, “emergency fund” cash reserves, and a side portfolio of self-directed investments. Following the concept of skin in the game, the following is not a recommendation, but just to share an actual, low-cost, diversified DIY portfolio complete with some real-world messiness. The goal of this portfolio is to create sustainable income that keeps up with inflation to cover our household expenses.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings
I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my different accounts, adds up my various balances, tracks my performance, and calculates my overall asset allocation. Once a quarter, I also update my manual Google Spreadsheet (free, instructions) because it helps me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here are updated performance and asset allocation charts, per the “Allocation” and “Holdings” tabs of my Personal Capital account, respectively. (The blue line went flat for a while because the synchronization stopped and I don’t checked my performance constantly.)

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market (VTI, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market (VXUS, VTIAX)
Vanguard Small Value (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets (VWO)
Avantis International Small Cap Value ETF (AVDV)
Cambria Emerging Shareholder Yield ETF (EYLD)
Vanguard REIT Index (VNQ, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities (VIPSX, VAIPX)
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index (FIPDX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond (TIP)
Individual TIPS bonds
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. This “Humble Portfolio” does not rely on my ability to pick specific stocks, sectors, trends, or countries. I own broad, low-cost exposure to asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I have faith in the long-term benefit of owning publicly-traded US and international shares of businesses, as well as high-quality US federal and municipal debt. My stock holdings roughly follow the total world market cap breakdown at roughly 60% US and 40% ex-US. I also own real estate through REITs.

I strongly believe in the importance of doing your own research. Every asset class will eventually have a low period, and you must have strong faith during these periods to truly make your money. You have to keep owning and buying more stocks through the stock market crashes. You have to maintain and even buy more rental properties during a housing crunch, etc. A good sign is that if prices drop, you’ll want to buy more of that asset instead of less.

I do not spend a lot of time backtesting various model portfolios, as I don’t think picking through the details of the recent past will necessarily create superior future returns. Usually, whatever model portfolio is popular in the moment just happens to hold the asset class that has been the hottest recently as well. I’ve also realized that I don’t have strong faith in the long-term results of commodities, gold, or bitcoin. I’ve tried many times to wrap my head around it, but have failed. I prefer things that send me checks while I sleep.

This is not the optimal, perfect, ideal anything. It’s just what I came up with, and it’s done the job. You may have different beliefs based on your own research and psychological leanings. Holding a good asset that you understand is better than owning and selling the highest-return asset when it is at its temporary low point.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 45% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 31% International Total Market
  • 7% International Small-Cap Value
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 66% High-Quality bonds, Municipal, US Treasury or FDIC-insured deposits
  • 33% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds (or I Savings Bonds)

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. This is more conservative than most people my age, but I am settling into a more “perpetual portfolio” as opposed to the more common accumulate/decumulate portfolio. I use the dividends and interest to rebalance whenever possible in order to avoid taxable gains. I plan to only manually rebalance past that if the stock/bond ratio is still off by more than 5% (i.e. less than 62% stocks, greater than 72% stocks). With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we can minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. The fact that I did research about Shiba Inu coins today is the latest evidence that there is too much money sloshing around chasing speculative investments. Somehow, I own 4,000,000 SHIB from a recent Voyager referral promotion! You really have to wonder how 2021 events will be described in 2030 or 2040. All I can do is listen to the late Jack Bogle and “stay the course”. I remain optimistic that capitalism, human ingenuity, human resilience, human compassion, and our system of laws will continue to improve things over time.

My thought for the quarter is that there is all this focus on tech/crypto/cloud but I hope we still invest enough in physical things like farming/energy/infrastructure.

Performance numbers. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio is up +11.4% for 2021 YTD. I rolled my own benchmark for my portfolio using 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +10.1% for 2021 YTD as of 10/15/2021.

I’ll share about more about the income aspect in a separate post.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

MMB Portfolio Update October 2021 (Q3): Asset Allocation & Performance from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2004-2021 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

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