Strange AI generated photo of a girl on computer

The Fall of Personal Capital

Personal Capital, a popular wealth management and financial planning platform, recently changed its name to Empower. This rebranding came after the company was acquired by Empower Retirement, one of the largest retirement plan providers in the US. However, the transition to Empower hasn’t been entirely smooth for the company, as it has been facing a major problem with its data aggregation tool Yodlee.

For those who are unfamiliar with Personal Capital, it is a digital wealth management platform that allows users to track their investments, manage their finances, and receive personalized financial advice. The platform was founded in 2009 and quickly gained a loyal following due to its robust features and user-friendly interface. However, in recent years, the company has faced a number of challenges that have led to its fall from grace.

One of the most significant issues facing Personal Capital is the problem with Yodlee, the data aggregation tool that the company relies on to access users’ financial data from their various accounts. Yodlee is a third-party service that is used by many financial apps and platforms, including Mint and Robinhood. However, in recent years, Yodlee has come under fire for its poor data security practices and for the way it handles users’ sensitive financial information.

Personal Capital has been affected by these issues, as the company relies heavily on Yodlee to gather users’ financial data from their bank and investment accounts. When Yodlee experiences issues or outages, it can cause significant disruptions to Personal Capital’s service, leaving users unable to access their financial information or perform transactions on the platform.

According to reports, the issues with Yodlee have been ongoing for some time, and have led to a number of user complaints and negative reviews for Personal Capital. Users have reported problems with connecting their accounts to the platform, missing or inaccurate data, and slow load times. In some cases, users have reported losing access to their accounts entirely, leading to frustration and concern over the security of their financial information.

Personal Capital has acknowledged the issues with Yodlee and has stated that it is working to resolve the problem. However, the company has also faced criticism for its handling of the situation, with some users accusing the company of downplaying the severity of the issue and failing to provide timely updates or solutions.

In addition to the issues with Yodlee, Personal Capital has also faced other challenges in recent years. The company has struggled to keep up with competition from other digital wealth management platforms, such as Betterment and Wealthfront, which offer similar services at lower prices. Personal Capital has also faced criticism over its fees, which some users have deemed too high compared to other platforms.

The fall of Personal Capital serves as a cautionary tale for other digital wealth management platforms and financial apps. The issues with Yodlee highlight the importance of data security and the need for companies to take proactive measures to protect their users’ sensitive financial information. Additionally, the struggles faced by Personal Capital underscore the need for companies to stay competitive in an increasingly crowded market, and to offer compelling features and pricing to attract and retain users.

Despite these challenges, there is still hope for Personal Capital and Empower. The company has a loyal user base and a strong reputation for providing quality financial advice and management services. If the company can resolve its issues with Yodlee and stay competitive with other platforms, there is no reason why it can’t bounce back and continue to grow in the years ahead.

The fall of Personal Capital/Empower is a cautionary tale for anyone involved in the digital financial industry. The issues with Yodlee highlight the risks associated with relying on third-party services for data aggregation, while the struggles f.aced by Personal Capital/Empower underscore the need for companies to stay competitive and innovate in an increasingly crowded market. For users, the current issues serve as a reminder of the importance of data security and the need to remain vigilant when using any financial app or platform.

Alternatives to Personal Capital

  1. SigFig: SigFig is a digital investment platform that offers investment tracking and management services. The platform allows users to connect all of their investment accounts, including brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, and 401(k)s, and provides real-time updates on portfolio performance. SigFig also offers investment recommendations and financial planning tools to help users achieve their financial goals.
  2. Morningstar is a financial data and investment research company that offers a range of tools and services to help investors track and manage their investments. The platform provides comprehensive data on thousands of stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs, and offers investment analysis tools and portfolio tracking services. Morningstar also offers investment recommendations and research reports to help investors make informed decisions.
  3. Mint: Mint is a popular personal finance app that allows users to track their investments, manage their finances, and set financial goals. The platform offers investment tracking tools that allow users to monitor their portfolio performance and asset allocation, as well as view investment news and analysis. Mint also provides a range of other financial management tools, including budgeting, bill payment, and credit score monitoring.
  4. CoPilot: Copilot is a comprehensive wealth tracking tool that offers a range of features and services to help users manage their finances and investments. While it is a third-party app, CoPilot integrates with a wide range of financial institutions and is designed to be secure and reliable, providing users with peace of mind when it comes to their financial data.

Full Disclaimer: I just signed up for Copilot and so far I like it. (It syncs with Vanguard!)If you sign up with the link above and use my referral code EVR67K to get 2 months free .

Are you working for free?

Are you working for free? I hope you value your time enough not to do so. Believe it or not, it’s possible you might be working for free without even realizing it. This is true if you work for a company that has a “use it or lose it” PTO policy and you don’t use all your PTO.

A lot of people tend to think of PTO or “paid time off” as being time. After all, we typically accrue it by the hour. But I believe a more accurate perspective is to consider PTO as money in a “savings account” which you earn and which accrues as you work.

Typically you accrue a certain amount of PTO per pay period or per month. And often if you separate from your employer, that PTO balance will often be paid out to you. It’s like taking a withdrawal from your savings account of these earnings.

Without PTO, in most cases, if you don’t work, you simply don’t get paid. PTO acts as a form of retained earnings in a savings account which is tapped to supplement your actual earnings at paycheck time. This ensures your paycheck is in line with your typical paycheck even if you spent a week in Tahiti and didn’t do a minute of work.

One thing to be wary of is the “use it or lose it” PTO policy. It’s like having the company empty your savings account at the end of the year if you didn’t use it. These dollars are yours and you should collect them by taking a day off.

If you don’t use your PTO you can consider it in two ways. Your savings account is being zeroed out. Or you could consider that your working X number of days for free. (You still would have got paid had you not worked).

Don’t Do This!

Let me be clear. DO NOT WORK FOR FREE! Have more respect for your own time. Generally, it’s a pretty good practice to accept the pay and benefits that a company offers you as part of your employment agreement. Imagine the employee that arranges to decline their pay. “I like working here so much you don’t need to pay me!”. Well, this is unlikely to happen. Yet it’s not uncommon for employees to pass up some of their benefits like paid time off. The company is arranging to pay them for time not worked, but they are declining?

Take a break. Your literally earned it.

Why Would People Do This?

It’s pretty irrational to work for free. Even the most dedicated workaholics aren’t that gung ho and altruistic to donate their time to the company for no benefit.

It’s likely that many do it out of insecurity or trying to keep face. Their thinking might be:

  • I’m not that valuable to the company and if I take time off maybe they will decide to get rid of me.
  • I want to create the impression that I am a die-hard worker that never takes a break.

In my opinion, this is nonsense. If your company might get rid of you for taking some time off, then it’s not likely a place you should want to work in the first place. Take a look at European time off.

This or the cubicle. Trouble deciding?

If you want to create the impression that you are a dedicated employee that is too committed to the company to ever take time off, consider that burn out is a real thing. Assuming your job isn’t the only thing you’re living for, time off often truly is invigorating and can recharge you.

I tend to take off a couple of weeks or so to disconnect and I can confirm that by the end of my vacation, I’m typically recharged and at some point actually miss the office. During this time of disconnecting you can often get a more broad perspective of your work and have some true insights from taking a step back.

So if you have a use it or lose it PTO policy, please do us all a favor and drop the facade..take the much needed time off.

stock ticker

Investing fees are obsolete

I remember when I started investing around 1996 or so. At the time I believe you could pay around $40 in commissions for a transaction with companies like Fidelity. But online brokers were coming into the game to change things forever.

If memory serves me right, my first transactions had transaction fees around $19.95 per transaction. This was with one of the first online brokers, E*Trade.

Over the years, competition drove commission fees downward. I remember investing fees dropped to $14.95 then $9.95. A lot of brokers now will let you buy for around $7.95 per trade. That’s a hell of a lot better than the $40 commission rates from the ’90s. There’s just one problem. It’s STILL too high!

You shouldn’t pay ANYTHING in commissions in 2019!

In 2019, we’ve arrived at the point where you can buy stocks without having to pay anything in commissions when you buy or sell. You can buy and sell stocks in a “pie” when you use M1 Finance.

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Buy Stocks with no fees on M1 Finance

Sign up to M1 Finance and you can create an investment “pie” like I did which include some Vanguard exchange-traded funds.

Fees Matter

Investment fees may not seem like a big deal, but over time they really start to add up. They compound along with your investment returns. You don’t just lose the tiny amount of fees you pay—you also lose all the growth that money might have had for years into the future. As such, you miss out out on the exponential compounding of investing.

Imagine you have $100,000 invested. (cha-ching!) If your investments earned 6% a year for the next 25 years and had no costs or fees, you’d end up with around $430,000.

If, instead, you paid 2% a year in costs, after 25 years you’d only have about $260,000.

Hard to believe but it’s true: The 2% you paid every year would wipe out almost 40% of your final account value. 2% doesn’t sound so small anymore, does it?

So you can see why it’s so important to avoid paying commissions and also any management fees that other robo-advisors might charge.

I’m a big fan of M1 Finance and signed up to be an affiliate. I may receive a commission on some signups generated from clicking a link to sign up for M1 Finance.

Healthcare in America is Simply Extortion

Many people know that the number one cause of US-based bankruptcy is medical expenses. But when talk of fixing this arises, debate typically is focused on who should shoulder the cost of insurance. Is it the individual? Is it the government? Should we have universal coverage? Single payer?

I think the conversation needs to change. It’s the medical prices dummy. They are fraudulent and a trip to the doctor or hospital is nothing short of extortion.

Medical Care Cost in the US is Fraudulent

You only need to travel the world a bit and see how it works in other countries to see the US system is simply fraudulent. I just don’t buy any of the BS explanations for why an MRI might cost someone $5,000. Or why a box of tissues cost $60. Or why band-aids are $25. This should be criminal.

Who is the Benefactor of US Medical Billing Extortion?

Sometimes there are kickbacks. Whenever there is that much money transacting from helpless patients, it’s like honey that attracts flies to try to get their piece of the pie. Why is it I can go to a hospital in other countries, and settle my bill on the spot for less than a month’s rent. But in America, you leave the hospital and then it starts. The bills come. They come from anyone and everyone. The extravaganza begins and the billing departments of hospitals, doctors, and labs from other zip codes all are primed to get their cash.

And the charges are just coming straight out of make believe land. They don’t correlate to anything in the real world.

“Come on Trolley. We can probably get a couple hundred bucks for giving some aspirin.”

Let’s Do Some Math. What Does an MRI Machine Cost?

Google says that an MRI machine can cost from $150,000 to $3,000,000. Funny how there is so much variance.

But how many MRI’s would need to be done to cover the cost of these machines? Let me do some back of the napkin math. I’m going to make an assumption that the machine might be used 3 to 5 times a day, so we’ll say 4 as an average.

MRI
Price
Scans to cover costDays in service
before revenue generated equas machine cost
$150,000307.5
$500,000
10025
$3,000,000
(The Diamond encrusted limited edition
Gucci MRI machine with heated seat)
600150

Yes. I know these are very rough estimates. And yes, I know there are other costs associated with an MRI like servicing and maintenance and you need to pay the lab tech. I know there is medical malpractice insurance. But give me a break. There’s no way the industry is this inefficient. And these other costs ought to be well mitigated with the $60 boxes of Kleenex. And how long does an MRI machine last? Surely at least five to ten years. Even the most expensive machine’s cost could be recouped in a year.

We’re not just overpaying for medical care. We’re overpaying by orders of magnitude. Please god let’s scrap the whole system and start over. Perhaps insurance is the culprit. There is a corrupted relationship with the health care providers and the insurance companies and it’s the patients who suffer. “Adam Ruin’s Everything” get’s into it a bit more about the “chargemaster”.

Ah It’s the Chargemaster You Say?

What Can We Do?

Probably not much. But at the very least could the people force the topic with the next presidential election? Storm Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook with demands that we fix the cost of healthcare.

It’s conceivable that if we had realistic prices for medical care maybe we wouldn’t need health insurance or we could truly have catastrophic insurance at a low cost only to be needed when the worst happens. You know..rather than paying the cost of rent each month as insurance which is little more than extortion that you won’t lose your life savings with a major illness.

So many other countries can do this. Why can’t we?

Warren Buffett’s Instructions For Wife’s Inheritance

Warren Buffett is a world-renowned investor. Many would consider him the best alive. He’s among the world’s richest men and he made the majority of his money investing in stocks and buying companies. But someday he’ll pass. And he left instructions to the trust administrator on how to invest the money he’s passing on to his wife.

The interesting thing is with all his investing knowledge, Warren Buffett’s plan for his wife’s inheritance is incredibly simple and straight forward. The trustee is to put the money into two investments at an allocation of 90/10. The investments are an S&P 500 index at 90% and short term government bonds at 10%. That’s it.

My advice to the trustee could not be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.) I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors – whether pension funds, institutions or individuals – who employ high-fee managers”.

Warren Buffett in 2013 Annual Berkshire shareholder letter

You can exactly replicate this easily with Vanguard ETF’s. The ETF’s would be as follows.

A quick mock up of replicating the “Buffett family trust”
VOO- The S&P 500 ETF90%
VGSH- Vanguard Short-Term Treasury10%

Automate the Plan

And if you don’t want to maintain the allocation you don’t need to pay a trustee one percent to do it. There are robo-advisors you can use to maintain it for you.

Some articles need to be short and sweet. That is Buffett’s plan for the wife’s inheritance. It could be a great model to follow if the world’s most successful investor is choosing it for his family.

I should mention that while I’ve been investing for over 25 years, I’m not a licensed broker or investment advisor and investment ideas are for entertainment and informational purposes only. Consult an investment advisor before investing money.

Is Betterment’s New “Smart Saver” Plan Really Smart? How to Beat It.

In August of 2018, Betterment rolled out a new “Smart Saver” plan and are stating “Our ultra-low-risk investing solution could earn you a 1.78%* annual return, after fees” according to their blog post. It looks like they are trying to step up and provide a savings vehicle to investors and the financially prudent looking for a home for their emergency funds. 

Recently, Betterment published an update and new features to their smart saver plan where they announced the interest rates of 2.23% annual return as of December 4, 2018.

Well,  a quick trip to nerdwallet.com shows that that the going rate for many FDIC insured savings accounts is hovering around over 2.3% now. So if you can get an FDIC guaranteed 2% or better return for savings, is it “smart” to invest in markets without a guarantee that won’t yield much better?

I’m open to hearing the reasoning, but I can’t see why it would be. It’s possible the smart saver plan could outperform a savings account, but of course, it may also underperform.

Recent Savings Rates

According to this blog post on Betterment’s blog, their new Smart Saver plan contains two conservative ETF funds. They chose ishares funds, NEAR and SHV. See recent Yahoo quotes as of February 2nd, 2019.

Overall I think Betterment’s Smart Saver Plan isn’t a bad approach to a conservative portfolio. But there’s just one problem.

It’s the Management Fees Dummy

While this idea of creating a conservative portfolio with two exchange-traded funds seems like a good idea, my thinking is that Betterment’s .25% management fee is going to eat too heavily into your already modest return.

When you’re talking a safe, conservative investment, you’re just not typically dealing with a return of 7 or 8 percent. There’s not enough of a profit margin to afford to lose even a fraction of a percentage to fees.

A Better Way

A smarter solution? Do it yourself. Invest the funds in Vanguard and manage it yourself to avoid the advisor fee. Don’t like allocating shares every time you invest or sell shares? Consider doing it with M1 Finance where you can set up this same portfolio but and have it managed without any management fee. That seems smart to me.

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Disclaimer:  I have an affiliate relationship with M1 Finance and may earn a commission on referred new accounts over a certain amount. I’m not a professional financial advisor so always consult with a professional before making any investment decisions to make sure you do what is right for you.

So I Created My Own Mutual Funds

Hedge fund manager life, here I come. Thoughts of a high rise condo on the Upper East Side and summering in the Hamptons are certainly in my future now that I’m curating investments for the masses. Ok, I confess this isn’t exactly true in a literal sense. (or legal sense..or well, probably ANY sense.)

Living the Hedgefund Advisor life. And then I woke up.

Ok, ok…I didn’t technically create my own mutual fund. But what I did do is select a group of stocks to purchase in an M1 Finance “pie” where they will be automatically maintained. And I can invest or sell from this selection of stocks on an ongoing basis at no cost. To me, that sounds a lot like a mutual fund with a zero expense ratio and no commissions for transactions. And that’s attractive.

The “Pies” I Created

“Boglehead Portfolio”

The first is my version of the popular lazy 3 fund portfolio, but I’ve also added real estate as well. In honor of the late John Bogle, I’ve named it the Boglehead portfolio. Here it is.

My own lazy portfolio

Not exactly killing it.

Update 4-24-19: Well things turned around.

“Go Catch Growth Fund”

I also created, what I’m thinking of as a growth fund. The selection of stocks are mostly tech-based and I chose based on the fact that these stocks don’t pay a dividend as of the time of selection. This means that as long as none are paying dividends, any gains within this fund wouldn’t be subject to income tax until you sell.

So it’s cheap or free to carry. Below is a glimpse of my “Go Catch Growth” fund. Click the link to see all my selections which if I’m lucky could beat a blindfolded monkey choosing stocks by throwing darts at a dartboard.

Hand selected by me.

It’s not all caviar and fine dining.

a quarterly return as of 2/11/2019 according to M1 Finance.

Of course in the future, any one of the companies might start to pay a dividend and thus an income tax bill. I could always kick a stock out if that happens.

Here’s my selection of companies. They say that sometimes a monkey playing darts can select stocks better than a professional MBA on Wall Street so let’s see how I can do.

If you are interested in using a no-fee robo advisor to invest, consider trying M1 Finance. I’ve loved it so far and if you sign up through my affiliate link, you’ll get a $10 credit just to try it.

Obligatory Disclaimer: I’ll point out that while I have over 23 years of experience investing, I’m not a professional financial advisor or licensed broker. This post is for entertainment purposes and you should check with a professional financial advisor before purchasing or selling any stocks.

I am also an affiliate of M1 Finance which means I’ll earn a commission on some signups generated from clicking a link on this page. If you signup based on the links on this post, you’ll get a $10 credit for opening a new account. Get the details by reading on M1 Finance site. I only recommend services I use and actually think are a good deal.

Disconnected In Tokyo: A Cell Phone Nightmare

These days it’s easy to be a road warrior and travel to foreign lands when you have a smartphone in hand. You can translate language on the fly with Google Translate. You always know where you’re going with Google Maps or Apple Maps. Restaurant reviews are at your fingertips for any location you discover unless you’re not connected.

If you’re planning to travel overseas, you definitely don’t want to be without a connection to the internet and smartphone as it can make travel much more challenging.

I’ll share a quick story about my first time visiting Japan. In 2012 I went to Tokyo, and while I did a fair amount of research for my trip, I didn’t put much effort into planning for my cell phone service. I foolishly assumed it wouldn’t be a problem.

By the time I had visited Japan, I had a fair amount of Asia travel under my belt. I’d blazed trails in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Thailand. In most Asian countries picking up a SIM card is as easy as stopping at an airport kiosk or cell phone store and buying a prepaid plan. And the rates are often quite affordable.

Chunghwa Telecom Prepaid Data Taiwan Cell Phone Rates
These are the rates per gig of cell phone service for Chunghwa Telecom in Taiwan as of 2019. This chart give you an idea of market rates for data in Taiwan. Eight Gigs of data costs about $33 USD.

It’s possible I simply missed it, but when I was in the airport I looked for a few phone service SIM card shops and couldn’t seem to find one that would sell my a SIM card. It’s possible there was a communication gap but I was under the impression a foreigner couldn’t buy a SIM card. Someone advised me I could rent a cell phone but I passed. I figured, I could find somewhere in town to pick up a SIM card. I spent about four days in Tokyo and was never able to find a place to get a prepaid SIM card.

Well, I’ll tell you that Tokyo, Japan isn’t beginner level travel for an American wanting to travel within Asia. Without access to Google Maps, and translate and my various travel sites like Wikitravel, I was a bit lost at times. My internet times was relegated to the free WiFi in my hotel, or what I could pick up in a local coffee shop. Incidentally, I’m at a local coffees shop now as I write this. (Shout out to Louisa coffee in Taiwan for good coffee at a decent price.)

Louisa Coffee in Taiwan. Good coffee at a decent price.

Travel by subway was challenging without internet. Tokyo has multiple subways systems operated by different companies. While they are interconnected, I found that sometimes it wasn’t clear to me which stop was the correct one for my transfer. Sometimes the stops were only posted in Japanese, and there wasn’t an indicator on the train that a subway stop was connected to the other system.

Tokyo is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s not the type of place you want to be without good information of where to go and the most cost efficient way to get there. Information is money in this day and age and being cut off from good info can be costly.

I had a great time in Tokyo and loved the little noodle shops where you choose your selection at a vending machine, pay, and then get a ticket which you can redeem for noodles when your number comes up. I still feel like I might have had a better time if I had been connected.

Ichiran Ramen
A bowl of delicious Ichiran Ramen noodles in Osaka Japan

Later on, I revisited Japan. This time I went to Osaka, and I was adamant about getting a SIM card. Somehow it was easy as pie to pick one up. I just bought it from a vending machine in the airport and was online after some fidgeting with the setup process. The setup process took a bit of effort and was something I wasn’t able to get right until I got to the hotel.

Don’t Make My Mistake

So I’ve learned my lesson to make sure I have a good plan when I hit the ground in a new country so I have phone service. But one part of my plan that his been fantastic was picking up a SIM card from Google FI.

The way it works, is you can get a free SIM card from Google FI and the plan is pretty straight forward. You pay $20 US for unlimited calls and texts in the US and then you pay $10 per Gig of data. This is a decent price but Google Fi shines because when you go abroad, Google FI works in most countries and data is the same cost per gig.

Now in my opinion, $10 per Gig isn’t a bad price but it’s true you can find data cheaper in other parts of the world. But the major benefit is that if you have Google Fi, you have internet the moment your plane lands and can catch a signal. This can be useful to catch up on email and do last minute research before you go through the process of deplaning and going through immigration, customs, and get your bags. No more fighting with airports WIFI login that might require setup and passwords.

I’m also keeping my Google FI to maintain a US phone number while abroad. I’m using my Taiwan SIM for low priced data but have my Google FI SIM available if I need to make US calls. Disclaimer: This is easier if you have a dual SIM phone which is becoming more popular. If you’re looking for an affordable great dual SIM phone check out One Plus. They are also available on Amazon. These phones are great and I have no idea why they aren’t more popular.

If you’re interested in trying Google FI prepaid cell service and would like a $20 credit just for signing up, you can check it out by clicking here or any of the Google FI links on this site.

Disclaimer: This article has affiliate links for Google FI service, One Plu and Amazon products. I may be paid a commission for sign-ups or purchases. If you sign up with my Google Fi link you’ll get a $20 credit from Google FI!