Category Archives: 401k and Personal Finance

Change of job: what to do with the savings in the 401k plan

I talked a bit on this topic in the past (see a post here). The one thing I may add is: I didn’t do very well in most the IRA (self management, mostly buy / sell stocks in the small scottrade IRA account). The value mostly bounced back since I bought the Huntsman (NYSE:HUN) in last couple years, but I lost quite a bit trading the coal stocks (and Palm stock) back in those days. So I decided to put money into Vanguard funds (and IRA account) in 2014 when the old 401 plan asked me to move my money (I worked on a contractor job in part of 2013, for 7 months).

Today I received a letter from my old employer Arch Coal, the director of benefits about change of the asset manager for the 401k plan. Note Arch Coal went through a bankruptcy in last few years, also note bankruptcy alone has no effect on employee’s 401k plan (the money is separate). But I did compare arch coal’s 401k plan performance vs the Mercy plan (managed by Fidelity, the No. 1 or 2 asset manager), and Arch’s performance is not as good. So this is something I will think about: 1) roll it over to my current employer; 2) roll it over to Vanguard; 3) leave it as is (the new manager is transamerica).

I have not decided it yet. Still thinking…

Contractor or employee ?

A common question for software developer is to be an employee (full time, perm) or be an contractor (W-2, or 1099). Strictly speaking the 1099 is more like a small business, and I have not done it personally. I heard some experienced people did the 1099; I will share if I have that exp. down the road.

I spent most of my career so far being an employee (8 years for Siemens PLM/UGS was the longest); I also spent some time being an contractor (total 3 places, about 28 months). Each option has pros and cons. A few things I learned from my own exp.

1) People have all kinds of expectations for contractors, usually the higher pay, the higher the expectation. For employee, they are a bit more patient.

2) Contract to hire. I found this is usually promised or at least suggested at the beginning, as personally I still prefer to be employee long time. But in two cases, I found they were not the case. All types things happen at client, but in one case looking back I felt the client may never had intention to convert. So this is something to keep in mind as for some people the longevity/conversion is important factor.

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Question on the Costco payment: should I pay Amex or Citi ?

Reading FAQs from Citi web page. Quoted below.

Q1. When do I start sending my payments to Citi instead of American Express?
A1: When you receive a statement from American Express please send your payment to American Express by mail, phone, or online. When you receive a statement from Citi, please send your payment to the address in your statement or make a payment online once you register for Citi® Online.

Q2. If I have a balance on my Costco card from American Express, will it transfer over to my new Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi?
A2: Any balance on your Costco card from American Express account will transfer automatically to your new Costco Anywhere Card on June 20, 2016.

Now what if I have balance left over from Amex on June 20, 2016, to whom should I pay: Amex (according to A1), or Citi (implied by A2).

(Update 06-22-2016) Gave it a bit more thought, decided to keep the pre-scheduled full payment to the original Amex Costco, while adding a minimum payment to the new Citi Visa Costco. This way I would avoid the penalty if the Amex => Citi did not go through. :-)

(Update 06-24-2016) So out of curiosity I actually posted this question to Citi via secured message. I received reply a few days later which appears stating they will do automatic transfer (from Amex to Citi).

(Update 07-02-2016) The payment went through (from Amex to Citi). A separate topic: it appears Citi did not give me 2% extra cashback for being Costco executive member (which according to the bulletin Costco just sent, it should). Anyway for me personally I will use Chase freedom (Visa) at Costco to get the 5% back (need to activate every quarter, which I did so far).

OK, I am reading the fine prints at Costco: Only purchases made by the primary and primary household cardholder on the account will apply toward the Reward. Since my wife made the purchase, so it sounds I won’t get the 2%?

Some observations of 401k in last 10 years

New job also means 401k investment election time. Here are my choices. Large cap: value 10%, index 30%, growth 20%, small cap: value 15%, index 15%, growth 15%. All US stocks :-)

I took a look at my #Siemens 401k 5 year performance, stock funds did better than all other, international stock was weak compared to US :-( The good thing is I keep all (98%) in stock funds.

Ideally we should look at 10 year or longer horizon for 401k, so I looked at as well, international stock was weak in last 10 years too :-(

The reason why international stock did not do well in last 10 years (note by international I mean mostly Japan and Europe), is the economy in both places grew very slowly, much slower than the US rate of about 3%. Japan may have negative growth rate.

2012 Year in Review

I took this cue from Kurby Turner, the independent Mac/iOS developer, as I think it might be helpful to reflect a year’s work, life, effort, etc. As the old Chinese saying goes “Ji Wang Kai Lai” (learn from past, and look forward to the future).

New job: Software Development
Today is my one year anniversary at my new employer. Looking back, from the initial ramp up to more comfortable work on my own pace, and then deliver the first iOS (iPad) app to the field, back end work, report work and support. I feel good about my effort and the support I got from my coworkers. Sometimes my wife will ask me “why it took so long for you to complete a project”? Because it’s not trivial to do it.

I also wrote a few blog posts on iOS app development, and the back end (.Net) web service. I plan to do the same as times goes. Generally speaking, now I have more confidence doing customized app development, full life cycle, and from front to back end (all tiers).

Our daughter goes to the Hope Montessori Infant Toddler Community at Creve Coeur (off Manson road, near Olive Blvd). We are truly blessed with the teachers and staffs at the Hope family (I consider them as family, both adults and children, because sometimes they are better than family :-) . Serenity (Yoyo) learned English and all kinds of things there, which laid a good foundation for her future. For us, we learned parenting lessons there. Sometimes I wonder how much quality time I spent there, from afternoon pickup, to field trip, to social (work-day, Fettuccine, Montessori and Vino, the FMV movie). We watched the FMV movie with great fun, my wife and my friends (couple) did not attend the FMV event, and really enjoyed the movie after I showed them.

We did one family vacation, and I had 2 business trips in year 2012. We went to Orange Beach, Alabama in the Memorial Day weekend, with Chinese friends. We drove there. It’s funny Yoyo would not go to bathroom on the road, she wants to use bathroom in the hotel or condo (destination). For the business trip, I visited 2 mines in West Virginia, the 2 hours I spent in underground mine is both interesting and a bit unsettling. That’s the first time I visited mines (both surface and underground). In November I visited Las Vegas, stayed in Palazzo (Venetian), which I stayed 3 years ago when I attended AU (Autodesk University, the developer/user conference) in 2009.

Personal Finance
As I wrote this post, I found I made both good moves and bad moves on this topic. I did well in 401k accounts (because I did nothing). But not in the Scottrade brokerage and IRA accounts (because I tried to do too much). Overall I still did ok, because majority of my assets are in 401k (both existing accounts and new account).

Today (01-03-2012) as I listened to Charlie Ellis on the Consuelo WealthTrack podcast, I can not agree more on one comment from Charlie: we all strive to be above average in school or at work. In investing being average is actually not too bad. I understand what meant: 80% of mutual funds perform below average (the index), hedge fund and individual investors are not doing better. So in other words, being average is actually in the top 20% :-)

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Top Ten Mistakes Made by Financial Agents and How to Prevent Them

The following is a guest post created by Ashley B. Mulvey who writes for financial advisor career advice , her interest blog she uses to share her knowledge to assist people cope with the facets of economic advisory.

Financial Advisers can have great careers and be real assets to their communities, but they can fall prey to avoidable faults. Mistakes 1 through 6 cover ethical concerns and 7 through 10 cover business strategy and personal concerns.

1) Making uninformed choices.
In order to prevent mistakes, be sure to double check proper rates and information about the product(s) you are offering.

2) Fraud
In order to stop fraud, go into your consultations with the attitude that you are going to do what is ideal for the customer whether or not you make the sale.

3) Signing an application with fields left blank.
Make sure that the application is fully filled out before signing it.

4) Asking for a check in the adviser’s name.
This should never be done, because premiums or payments from clients belong to the company under which the adviser is employed and should never be intermingled with the adviser’s personal records.

5) Putting unwanted pressure on the client.
Good salespeople can close a sale without using coercion. Always look out for the client’s best interest.

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Lessons learned from sad 401k story

WSJ ran an interesting article “Retiring Boomers Find 401(k) Plans Fall Short” over the weekend (link here, if not work please google the article to get it). I felt sorry to read this:

…Gloria Moss has been contributing to a 401(k) since 1985, when she went back to work after having children. Especially after divorcing, she wasn’t able to contribute as much as she wished and when her children finished college, she focused on repaying college loans. She says she lost more than half her savings in the recent financial crisis, then shifted heavily to bonds and missed the stock rebound…

Two things quickly came to my mind:

1) It’s hard for people nearing retirement age to hold on their investment when the market drop like a rock, during the recent financial crisis (Fall 2008 to Spring 2009) I knew I would not hold on to my 401k if I were 20 years older. In order to sleep better at night, they sold their investments at the market low, because they just could not take it any more. I can fully understand the emotion here. For instance, someone used to have $600,000 in his/her retirement account before all this happens, and in financial crisis it dropped to $300,000, the person still prefer to have $300,000 over the potential “nothing left”.

2) The second point, by the same token, people who bailed out at low are unlikely to jump back into market, when the market turns. On the other hand, people who are in the loop (wall street?), and young people are more likely jump back in. The former took the cue from all the government and fed actions, the latter can take more risk because they have more time (to invest and recoup the loss).

Long story short, it seems the boomers got squeezed in this financial crisis. One plus side they have, is for those near retirement age, they can be sure the social security will still be there.

Turbo Tax discount and weekend in review

Turbo Tax Federal discount

It’s tax season again. Here is the Turbo Tax Federal discount available to me. In most cases I think it will also work for others :-)

Bank of America: 35% off link
Citicards: 35% off link
Scottrade: 30% off
Vanguard (regular customers): 25% off

Weekend review
Signed up the 360iDev iPhone conference in Denver (Sept 11-14 this year).

A few weeks ago I found this article Embed a navigation controller inside a tab bar controller, and it’s very helpful.

Does Apple just become an ordinary company/store? One sign: using “holiday promotion” tactics A LOT.

It seems to me most people are counter-clock wired: I mean, most drive ways, tracks are designed that way so that the traffic goes in counter-clock direction. But occasionally people break the rule: I did this couple times, and I remember once another driver got really mad (honked at me). And yesterday morning I saw people do this in Panera Bread parking lot.

Airplane mode on iPhone: it becomes handy at night (so that I don’t wake up and read the twitter); it saves battery too.

Some myths on retirement savings

During the annual benefits enrollment a while ago, I knew health insurance premium would go up quite a bit in 2011. So what can I do to offset that premium increase? Decrease the savings for 401k?

Just kidding. Over the years I have seen a lot of confusions and myths on the 401k savings. For me personally, I started my job without enrolling into the company 401k plan for slightly over a year. When I started to enroll, then came the questions such as saving percentage, and fund choices.

How much should we save in 401k (percentage-wise), should we just save enough to get employer match?
I read this article from Yahoo Finance a while ago 3 Ways to Get Free Money for Retirement, and I recommend it. Ultimately how much to save depends on how much we want to get after retire, and the investment return rate. My iPhone app myNestEgg is trying to get some mystery out of this process. For me personally, I’m now putting 15% of salary into 401k.

Social security, how much can we expect?
Unlike some of the rhetoric on topic, such as “Social Security will go bankrupt”, or “Social Security will not be there when we (gen X) retire”, I do have some faith on this program. I think I can count 30% of the retirement income from social security.

How much should I save?
I feel 70% of the “income ratio”, as shown in my iPhone app myNestEgg, is probably good enough.