Financial Independence Progress Report for August 2016

August also has come and gone without much fanfare. Another very slow month…so slow that I felt like doing something just to make it less boring. But, I reminded myself that it is the lull before the storm that I anticipate may start in September (historically a rough month). But, lets look at numbers for August.

09/03/2016
Emergency Fund $60K 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 44.30% 44.92%
Passive Income (2015 vs 2016) $297.54 (08/2015) $391.93  (08/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 64.66% 65.01%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance payments initiated)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Portfolio Increases (in green above)
    • Nothing great to talk about…I still think that the positive gains of this year will not stand the test of time…..insane valuations will always come crashing down.
  • Portfolio changes
    • No portfolio changes this month….still adding to the cash fund I set up last month. If there is a good market dip (saw DOW drops 200-300 pts), I will use the cash to buy the dip.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive Income for August 2016 ($391.93) is higher that August 2015 (297.54). This restarts the streak of 2016 dividends being more than 2015 dividends for the corresponding months. The streak got broken last month because I was in the middle of some portfolio changes….happy to get it back this month 🙂
    • My goal is to reach $750 pm by end of this year…it is already August…and my monthly dividends are appx $433 pm.
      • Target Dividend
        • $9000 pa => $750 pm
      • Current Dividend
        • $5593 pa => $466 pm
      • Balance to make up in the next 5 months
        • $9000 – $5593  => $3407 over the next 4 months
        • I have kept some cash aside to invest in a dip….I could invest it right now and increase my chances of making my target of $750 pm dividend income. But, I have chosen to wait a bit for value by waiting for a market dip and then using the cash. September is another big month for dividends. Based on how September does, I will decide.
        • I think I might squeeze through….keeping fingers crossed.

Financial Independence Progress Report for July 2016

July has come and gone without much fanfare. After June, one of the two biggest months of the year for dividends, July feels disappointing actually. But, let the numbers speak rather than my emotions 🙂

08/01/2016
Emergency Fund ($72K)$60K 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 42.53% 44.30%
Passive Income (2015 vs 2016) $604.87 (07/2015) $579.61  (07/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 61.64% 64.66%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance payments initiated)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Portfolio Increases (in green above)
    • I cannot believe that any of the positive gains will ever stand the test of time. It is the markets going crazy on us with insane valuations. So, I will not waste my time talking about it.
  • Portfolio changes
    • I did some more portfolio changes….hopefully for the last time this year. The main idea was to capture some gains and move them into a couple of new fund options. And also set aside some money for the cash fund.
    • I wrote about this here. My new mutual fund investments are VWELX and VDAIX.
  • Cash Fund
    • I started a cash fund in May since I anticipated a few days of down market towards the end of June…with the interest rate drama, Britain’s exit from Euro decision, etc. I used the fund completely to buy the Brexit dip.
    • I have started a new cash fund in July again…nothing big..two hundred dollars a month max. And some cash to seed the fund came from capturing some of the gains from some of my mutual funds.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive Income for July 2016 ($579.61) was surprisingly lower than that of July 2015 (604.87). I was wondering why this happened…..and then I remembered on seeing the numbers. When I was jobless early this year, I sold some ESPP stock I had and used the money to buy VWITX (National MUNIs). I got to sell some ESPP without any additional taxes….the espp sale replaced some portion of my salary loss. The ESPP stock dividends are slightly more than the National MUNIs but at tax time, the MUNIs will score because the gains are tax free. I got the diversification I wanted but it came as a surprise.
    • My goal is to reach $750 pm by end of this year…it is already July…and my monthly dividends are appx $433 pm.
      • Target Dividend
        • $750 pm => $9000 pa
      • Current Dividend
        • $433 pm => $5196 pa
      • Balance to make up in the next 5 months
        • $9000 – $5196  => $3804 over the next 5 months
        • I think I might squeeze through….inspite of July’s weak dividends.
      • Lets hope for the best!!

Financial Independence Progress Report for June 2016

June is finally done! It is one of the two biggest months of the year for dividends. And it did not disappoint me 🙂 Lets look at June’s numbers. In a later post, I will do my quarterly review for the 2nd quarter and see how I am doing for the yearly goals.

07/02/2016
Emergency Fund ($72K)$60K 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 42% 42.53%
Passive Income (2015 vs 2016) $1038.14 (06/2015) $1741.69 (06/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 61.31% 61.64%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance payments initiated)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Dollar Cost Averaging
    • In May, I reduced my Emergency fund and moved some of it into a new Dividend mutual fund (VDAIX). I was keeping the remaining money as a Cash Fund to invest on the next market downturn….and boy…did Brexit provide that for me.
    • Brexit turned out to be a boon for me. The market dropped on two consecutive days in a big way….DOW dropped by 600 points and 300 points on consecutive days. Thanks to the people of United Kingdom for this!
    • I had a couple thousand dollars left over from the emergency fund makeover and pushed all the money (and some) into my passive income streams. Yeah for dollar cost averaging….this cash infusion will make its presence felt over the years via dividend compounding.
  • Cash Fund
    • I started a cash fund in May since I anticipated a few days of down market towards the end of June…with the interest rate drama, Britain’s exit from Euro decision, etc.
    • I used the fund completely and now I am officially out of cash…I mean I am so out of cash that I had to borrow money from my wife to pay the bills for this month. I am never going to hear the end of this for sure 🙂
    • So, for the next 3-4 months at least, I will have to run a very very tight ship 😦 Hey, the sacrifices will pay off in the long run right? And the dividends coming in will hopefully keep me motivated and help me ride out the low-cash situations.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive Income for June 2016 recaptured the increase in dividends over the same period last year. June 2015 had a dividend income of $278.52 and June 2016 has a dividend income of $378.08 …a decent year-over-year increase.
    • My goal is to reach $750 pm by end of this year…considering we are at the half way mark for the year and my monthly dividends are close to $400 pm, I can see now that I am going to reach it….eagerly waiting for the day when this event happens!

Financial Independence Progress Report for April 2016

April is a slow month for dividends in my portfolio. But, after a couple months of no paychecks, seeing regular paychecks in April was such a joy! In celebration of that, I pumped a couple hundred dollars into making sure that future paychecks via dividends are a certainty 🙂

Lets look at the numbers now.

04/30/2016
Emergency Fund ($72K) 100.0% 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 39.33% 41.25%
Passive Income Streams ($4000 pm) $544.13 pm (04/2015) $509.15 pm (4/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 57.96% 61.08%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance payments initiated)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Portfolio changes continues this month….
    • I wrote about my Capital Gains gut check here. As part of that exercise, I divested all my holdings in VTCLX (Vanguard Tax Managed Capital Appreciation) and VTMSX (Vanguard Tax Managed Small Cap).
  • Additions to my new investment vehicle…
    • Last month, I initiated a position in Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VWITX). I wrote about it in my March Progress Report.
    • I took all the money from the sale of VTCLX and VTMSX and moved them into VWITX.
    • The gains are Federal Tax free and AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) free as well. I would still have to pay CA state tax for VWITX though.
  • Dollar Cost Averaging
    • Did not have cash to dollar cost average (DCA) my funds this month…but I did boost my investments to dollar cost average VTMGX (Vanguard Developed Markets Index Fund….my non-US exposure mutual fund). I want to have some of my passive income streams to not come from US companies. VTMGX diversifies my passive income streams to include companies from Greater Europe, Greater Asia and Canada.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive income for April 2016 ($1016.87) broke the positive trend of current year month winning over previous year’s month as April 2015 ($544.13). Hmm….
      • ….this was expected as my portfolio changes led to a some days where my money was not working for me…a gap of a couple days between closing of accounts and moving them into new accounts.
    • I compute Passive Income per month as (total passive income in this year) / number of months completed this year.
      • Total passive income is a sum of dividends + capital gains distributions.
      • April Passive Income = (total passive income in this year) / 12 == $201.98 which beat the 2015 April number ($172.40 per month)
      • Doing it this way keeps the monthly passive income more realistic because I can instantly know which of my monthly expenses are covered by this amount. I keep a separate tracker for this which I will write about at a later date.
    • My intermediate goal is to get $1000 pm in passive income first. My estimation for 2016 is that I will reach $750 pm. Lets see if I can push it some more 🙂

What is Tax Efficient Investing?

Before we talk about tax efficient investing, lets talk about the two different types of accounts: Tax-advantaged and Taxable accounts.

Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Examples of this type of accounts are 401K and IRA accounts. I do not have to pay taxes when I file taxes every year for any gains produced by investments in these accounts. The gains can be via capital gains, dividend distributions, interest, etc. The gains can grow in a tax-free environment  until money is withdrawn from these accounts. At that time, taxes will need to be paid based on the tax bracket one is at that time.

Taxable Accounts

Any account that is not tax-advantaged is a Taxable account. For example, my bank account with cash that produces interest is a taxable account because I will have to pay taxes on the interest money reported by the bank. Likewise, my Vanguard investment accounts, using post-tax money from my bank account, are taxable as well i.e. any dividends and/or capital gain distributions are taxable as well.

Tax-Efficient Investing

Gains produced in taxable accounts will be taxed according to the tax bracket one is in. Lets take an example. Consider the fund VDIGX…a dividend growth fund from Vanguard. The expected distributions for this fund for the  year 2014 are as follows:

Dividend Growth Fund    VDIGX

  • Dividends: $0.17
  • Short Term: $0.07
  • Long Term: $0.25

Each of the different category of gains are taxed at different levels depending on the investor’s tax bracket

  • Short term gains taxed at investor’s tax bracket (say 33%)
  • Long term gains taxed at 20% (fixed)
  • Dividends (qualified 100%) taxed at 15% (for folks in 33% tax bracket)

Tax-efficient investing is choosing investments in such a way that the taxes paid on the gains is minimized as much as possible. In the above example, it would be most tax-efficient if all of the gain comes in the form of dividends which are the least taxed category at 15%.

Consider another example of VCAIX….a California MUNI fund from Vanguard as well. This fund invests in MUNI bonds within California. The special treatment given to such bonds is that the gains form such bonds are both Federal and State Tax free and in most cases AMT free as well. For now, lets ignore AMT free…I will talk about this in another post. Now consider the gains produced by VCAIX for the calendar year 2014.

CA Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt VCAIX

  • Dividends: $0.02
  • Short term: $0
  • Long Term: $0

For a resident of California, all the gains produced by VCAIX are completely *tax-free* i.e. both federal and state tax free. If not a resident of California, then it is only Federal tax free and state taxes have to be paid. So, in comparison to VDIGX,  for a resident of California, VCAIX isdefinitely more tax efficient than VDIGX.

So, tax-efficient investing is not about NOT_PAYING_TAXES. It is about MINIMIZING-TAXES-PAID and hence maximizing the gain that the mutual fund delivers.

NOTE:

  • VCAIX offers an appx gain of say 3%.But, being tax free means I get to keep the 3% completely.
  • For a taxable (or a less tax-efficient) fund to allow me to keep 3% post taxes, the fund has to produce a gain much higher than 3% to compensate for the taxes that need to be paid.
  • There is a calculator called Taxable Equivalent Yield Calculator (link below) where if I put in 3% and 33% as my tax bracket, I get the result of 4.48%. So, before paying taxes, the fund has to provide a gain of 4.48% so that post tax, I get to keep 3%.
  • For a portion of my portfolio, I may decide to take less risk and go for VCAIX at 3% vs taking more risk and investing in another fund that produces 4.48% gain. Now you see the power of tax efficiency 🙂
  • Of course, I do not want all my investments to be in VCAIX right…it is not diversified enough. So, asset allocation should still be higher priority than tax-efficient placement. Another post for this later….but for now, read the first link in the reference links below.

Reference Links

Dividend Investing: Mutual funds v/s Individual stocks

Being a lazy investor who likes periodic investments, mutual funds is the most obvious alternative for me. But, there are many people who favor investing in individual stocks that lead to dividend income. If the dividend income is the same in both cases, then which one to pick? I.e. what are the tradeoffs in each method? Here are some thoughts with an example.

Let us consider VDIGX as the example mutual fund and a dividend producing individual stocks basket. The stocks we will assume to be part of both VDIGX and the stocks basket are:

  • Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Microsoft Corporation
  • Merck & Company, Inc.
  • TJX Companies, Inc.
  • Chevron Corporation

For an investor to maintain an individual stocks basket of the above stocks, he/she has to do a financial analysis of the companies involved OR at the least, spent time studying the reports available in the internet, company’s SEC filings, etc. One also has to evaluate the price of the stock based on its earnings potential. In short, there is a reasonable amount of financial knowledge and capability needed to invest in individual stocks.And, tax time can be a pain 🙂

But, the advantages are that once you own the stocks, you (the investor) gets to decide when to sell the stocks, when to realize capital gains (short or long term), buy and hold forever OR sell at the opportune time, buy and sell instantaneously during the day, etc etc. There may OR may not be commissions involved for buying/selling depending on the stock broker platform used (etrade, vanguard, and a whole host of providers with different fees per trade).

VDIGX, on the other hand, is totally controlled by the fund manager who currently happens to be Don Kilbride, a recognized name in the industry. He decides when to sell or buy company stocks, in what quantity, which companies to buy, etc. So, there is a loss of personal control over the investment. In addition, you (the investor) has to pay Don a fee for managing the investments. Since I do not have the time nor the knowledge to do a financial analysis, I have to pay Don the fees to do the work on my behalf. Since Don has a proven track record of producing reasonable gain, I am betting that past performance is a reasonable (but not guaranteed) predictor of future performance. Due to the loss of control, you (the investor) cannot control the time of selling/buying stocks, realization of capital gains (short or long term), which companies to buy, etc. For example, Don OR some other fund investor could sell VDIGX shares and force a capital gain of the short term. In addition, if you do not invest in the fund anymore after a certain amount of money, you still have to pay Don some money.

The advantage of course, is that you (the investor) does not have to evaluate the financial stability of the company, the value of the stock, etc etc. Don has years of experience in picking such stocks and also has a well known company like Wellington/Vanguard overseeing the process of picking such stocks. And tax time is as easy as taking the 1099 form that Vanguard will send for VDIGX and filling up the form in a tax form 🙂

For the lazy investor (like me), VDIGX is perfect. For the more knowledgeable investor, picking individual stocks may be the way. Hope this article gives a flavor of the issues to be aware of in choosing mutual funds vs individual stocks.

PS: For a more detailed article on tax treatment, please read another post by HumbleFI titled Tax consequences of investing in Mutual Funds

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