Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

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fennewaldaj
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Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by fennewaldaj » Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:23 am

<t>So I am pretty new to the bogleheads form and wiki. I have noticed there is a strong preference for treating all accounts as one bucket as opposed to mirroring asset allocations in each account. I see the value in this approach and realize that is likely optimal in many circumstances such as when some of your accounts have good options for some things but not others. I fail to see how it makes things simpler. To me it seems to makes things more complicated for a couple reasons. To me rebalancing is much easier when you simply have to enter desired percentages for each account. The other complication in my mind is that different accounts have different post tax value. It is really only possible to guess at the exact relative post tax value of roths/traditional/taxable in say 30 years which makes it hard to be precise with your exact asset allocation. Is this just a difference in how I perceive simplicity vs others or am I missing something.</t>

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by Noobvestor » Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:36 am

It allows you to have fewer total holdings. It lets you optimize for taxation purposes, which is particularly handy (I'd say essential, really) if you have any money in taxable accounts. Ideally, you'll have one account you can rebalance within. For instance, taxable might be 100% Total Stock, Roth IRA might be 100% Total International, and the 401(k) might have some of each plus some Total Bond. Depending your circumstances, this can make rebalancing simpler than a separate buckets approach because you only need to do it in one account. And, as you mentioned, it helps if you have an account (e.g. through an employer) that doesn't have optimal offerings. Regardless of approach, though, I recommend centralized tracking in a spreadsheet or through a primary account (in my case, I track all outside investments in Vanguard's interface).

Your mileage may vary, of course - here's a link for further reading: https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Asset_a ... e_accounts
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Tyler Aspect
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by Tyler Aspect » Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:45 am

There is no need to project tax paid 30 years into the future, because the return into the future is unclear. We only need to consider our investment's current value for the purpose of rebalancing.

Variations of US tax laws treat each asset class differently according to account types. There is a placement preference table that is 4 X 3 by size. On one axis you have REIT / Bond / US Stock / International Stock. On the other axis you have taxable / traditional IRA / Roth IRA. To have the most tax optimal asset placement you need to consult this placement table.
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fennewaldaj
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by fennewaldaj » Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:13 am

Tyler Aspect wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:45 am
There is no need to project tax paid 30 years into the future, because the return into the future is unclear. We only need to consider our investment's current value for the purpose of rebalancing.

Variations of US tax laws treat each asset class differently according to account types. There is a placement preference table that is 4 X 3 by size. On one axis you have REIT / Bond / US Stock / International Stock. On the other axis you have taxable / traditional IRA / Roth IRA. To have the most tax optimal asset placement you need to consult this placement table.
The reason I brought up the tax paid in 30 years is that we know $1 in the Roth is worth more than $ in tradition or taxable but we don't know by how much. If we don't adjust the allocation its not really whatever its face value is. How much it is off is only apparent at a later date.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by Tamarind » Wed Nov 15, 2017 7:13 am

fennewaldaj wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:13 am
Tyler Aspect wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:45 am
There is no need to project tax paid 30 years into the future, because the return into the future is unclear. We only need to consider our investment's current value for the purpose of rebalancing.

Variations of US tax laws treat each asset class differently according to account types. There is a placement preference table that is 4 X 3 by size. On one axis you have REIT / Bond / US Stock / International Stock. On the other axis you have taxable / traditional IRA / Roth IRA. To have the most tax optimal asset placement you need to consult this placement table.
The reason I brought up the tax paid in 30 years is that we know $1 in the Roth is worth more than $ in tradition or taxable but we don't know by how much. If we don't adjust the allocation its not really whatever its face value is. How much it is off is only apparent at a later date.
At that later date (in a tax-advantaged account) you can rebalance as that discrepancy occurs upon withdrawal. In the end, $1 post tax is $1 post tax.

As folks have said above, a single bucket is especially important for someone who will have a lot of taxable investments. Money invested in bonds in a taxable account suffers drag on growth compared to bonds in a tax-advantaged account that's equal to your tax rate on dividends, at least 15% for anyone above the 15% bracket. And you can claim an extra tax credit on international funds in taxable that you can't claim in tax-advantaged.

It's also critical when one or more assets classes aren't available for a reasonable price in all accounts. For instance, don't keep any international in your 401k if employer didn't choose to make a fund with less than 0.5% available there but you can get it for 0.08% in a Roth. The extra fees slow down growth of your portfolio.

The idea is to roughly optimize for three things at once: tax treatment, cost of fund, and number of holdings. This should yield the cheapest (=best performing) and simplest portfolio.

Because it's an optimization problem, not everyone will arrive at the same solution and that's fine. For some folks, a single fund that can be used across all accounts is best even if it's more expensive. Target date funds are good for this.

I'll post my own allocation matrix later so you can see an example.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by avalpert » Wed Nov 15, 2017 9:04 am

fennewaldaj wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:13 am
Tyler Aspect wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:45 am
There is no need to project tax paid 30 years into the future, because the return into the future is unclear. We only need to consider our investment's current value for the purpose of rebalancing.

Variations of US tax laws treat each asset class differently according to account types. There is a placement preference table that is 4 X 3 by size. On one axis you have REIT / Bond / US Stock / International Stock. On the other axis you have taxable / traditional IRA / Roth IRA. To have the most tax optimal asset placement you need to consult this placement table.
The reason I brought up the tax paid in 30 years is that we know $1 in the Roth is worth more than $ in tradition or taxable but we don't know by how much. If we don't adjust the allocation its not really whatever its face value is. How much it is off is only apparent at a later date.
Tax is a future expense, the value of the assets are the same - it is more complex to try to conflate the two and doesn't help with decision making. You actually don't know that the Traditional will generate more tax expense than the Roth - it depends on your tax rate at the time which can in fact be 0.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by freebeer » Wed Nov 15, 2017 9:08 am

It's true that whether one does e.g. 60/40 stocks/bonds or something else one generally is re-balancing based on nominal dollar amounts which don't match the "worth" of the funds since as you wrote a Roth $1 is worth more in terms of future spendable income than a trad 401K $1, etc.

But to me it seems more important - and simplest - to stick to something to avoid market-timing or other sub-optimal behaviors. If the re-balancing target is nominally 60/40 but would actually be more like 55/45 or whatever if asset value per location were taken into account, that seems much less important than "staying the course" and it's much simpler to just stick to the nominal values.

Of course if the 60/40 could be replicated in each account that would eliminate that issue but that, as per other comments, would lead to significant tax inefficiencies.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by Earl Lemongrab » Wed Nov 15, 2017 12:59 pm

Complexity should bring a benefit. I see no benefit to mirroring allocation in all accounts. In my case, I'm 60/40. That means I'd need to buy a lot of muni funds in taxable, while holding stock funds in my 401(k). Also, I'd have to bump a lot of stock out of Roth IRA to hold bonds. Where is the advantage to any of that?

Then there is tax efficiency. I have a decent share of REIT in my allocation. Not even considering the lack of that in the 401(k), then I'd need to hold a representative slice in taxable. That's a poor idea.

This is a case where the easy and the better way coincide. Use each type of account to its best advantage. So my 401(k), which has a stable-value fund and a bond index fund with a .04 ER, gets all of the fixed-income. That takes up most of it, with some of the small-cap there to fill it out. Easy, done, don't have to worry about FI anywhere else. Then I can use Roth for REIT and value funds that benefit from the tax advantages. The rest of the index funds go into taxable.
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by sco » Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:51 am

I have 1 account that has multiple holdings. All other accounts have 1 single fund.

For me this makes rebalancing easier, and yes there are tax benefits.

Having a spreadsheet makes rebalancing a 5 minute job.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by Dandy » Thu Nov 16, 2017 10:28 am

When you have a lot of different accounts e.g. 2 TIRAs, 2 Roths, 2 401ks and a Joint Taxable account it can get very complex no matter how you structure your investments especially when their are ongoing contributions and company matches to some. I tried to have at least an equity and fixed income option in every account and not too many products in each account.

I would focus on what the big winners and losers are as far a Expense Ratio's and Index Fund vs Active. Sometimes you may need to invest in a fund that isn't optimal to avoid getting too complex. You should focus on any accounts that you have contributions/company matches since they are likely to be the ones that garner the lion share of your investments.

When re balancing keep in mind the biggest risk you are trying to tame with re balancing is the overall equity vs fixed income. If you keep that ratio within your target the rest is usually small potatoes.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by livesoft » Thu Nov 16, 2017 10:34 am

sco wrote:
Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:51 am
I have 1 account that has multiple holdings. All other accounts have 1 single fund.

For me this makes rebalancing easier, and yes there are tax benefits.

Having a spreadsheet makes rebalancing a 5 minute job.
We are similar, but instead of a spreadsheet, we just use Vanguard Portfolio Watch, so that rebalancing is a less than 60 second job.

See, e.g., viewtopic.php?t=150267
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by Tyler Aspect » Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:29 am

I talked about the placement table without showing it. I will list it below.

the preferred location for each investment type in order of most preferred location to least preferred location according to US tax laws:
  • REIT: Roth IRA, traditional IRA, taxable
  • bond: traditional IRA, Roth IRA, taxable
  • international stock: taxable, Roth IRA, traditional IRA
  • US stock: Roth IRA, taxable, traditional IRA
For this placement exercise a traditional 401k is similar to a traditional IRA, while a Roth 401k is similar to a Roth IRA. Try to place each type of investments by the order of preference. Place REIT first if there is any; place US stocks last.
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by grabiner » Sat Nov 18, 2017 10:05 pm

Tyler Aspect wrote:
Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:29 am
I talked about the placement table without showing it. I will list it below.

the preferred location for each investment type in order of most preferred location to least preferred location according to US tax laws:
  • REIT: Roth IRA, traditional IRA, taxable
  • bond: traditional IRA, Roth IRA, taxable
  • international stock: taxable, Roth IRA, traditional IRA
  • US stock: Roth IRA, taxable, traditional IRA
For this placement exercise a traditional 401k is similar to a traditional IRA, while a Roth 401k is similar to a Roth IRA. Try to place each type of investments by the order of preference. Place REIT first if there is any; place US stocks last.
Traditional versus Roth is almost irrelevant for asset location. If you retire in a 25% bracket, you will get exactly the same value from $40K in a traditional IRA or $30K in a Roth IRA if invested the same way; if the market doubles or halves, you will get $60K or $15K either way. The decision of what goes in Traditional or Roth should primarily be determined by the investment options; if your employer plan offers better stock funds than bond funds, or vice versa, that determines what goes there even if it is a traditional 401(k) and you have a Roth IRA.

If all else is equal, there is a slight advantage to putting stocks (whether REITs or not) in a Roth account. If the market booms and you have stocks in a traditional account, you may pay taxes on RMDs which are larger than you need, or in a higher bracket than you expected, so you don't get the full 75% of the gain for yourself.

But I have a hard time constructing a scenario in which I would prefer holding stock in a Roth IRA and bonds in taxable, but bonds in a traditional IRA and stocks in taxable. (There are plenty of scenarios in which either one of the above is better. For example, if you are in a high tax bracket and pay high state taxes, holding munis from your state in taxable and bonds in an IRA may be the best asset location, since you pay unusually high taxes on stock dividends.)
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by celia » Sun Nov 19, 2017 12:37 am

fennewaldaj wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:23 am
To me rebalancing is much easier when you simply have to enter desired percentages for each account.

If you want a 60/40 portfolio (stocks/bonds), as an example, you don't need to set every account to 60/40. In fact, if you do that, it is not tax-efficient. If you have not yet read the Tax-efficient Fund Placement wiki page, you should check it out. Since Roth accounts will allow anything to grow tax-free, you should put the assets in there that are expected to grow the fastest. On the other hand, you want bonds in tax-deferred accounts since there is no tax break on the interest they pay out. This will also help to keep down the future taxes you will have to pay at withdrawal since the account won't grow as fast.

One place where the Asset Allocation within an account is important is when the account is earmarked for a specific purpose, such as college (in a 529 plan account) or a house down payment (in a taxable account). Accounts for these short-term goals need to be more conservative as the deadline nears as less risk can be endured then.
The other complication in my mind is that different accounts have different post tax value.
I'm pretty sure not many of us think about that when it comes to Asset Allocation. We just think of all current "dollars" as being the same although they have different future spending power.
A dollar in Roth is worth more than a dollar in a taxable account. A dollar in taxable is worth more than a dollar in a tax-deferred account.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by celia » Sun Nov 19, 2017 12:55 am

grabiner wrote:
Sat Nov 18, 2017 10:05 pm
Traditional versus Roth is almost irrelevant for asset location. If you retire in a 25% bracket, you will get exactly the same value from $40K in a traditional IRA or $30K in a Roth IRA if invested the same way; if the market doubles or halves, you will get $60K or $15K either way.
This is only true if you are paying the taxes out of the distribution. If you pay the taxes from your taxable savings, the dollar amount of the taxes certainly matters. You will then want to conserve your dollars.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by grabiner » Sun Nov 19, 2017 10:28 am

celia wrote:
Sun Nov 19, 2017 12:55 am
grabiner wrote:
Sat Nov 18, 2017 10:05 pm
Traditional versus Roth is almost irrelevant for asset location. If you retire in a 25% bracket, you will get exactly the same value from $40K in a traditional IRA or $30K in a Roth IRA if invested the same way; if the market doubles or halves, you will get $60K or $15K either way.
This is only true if you are paying the taxes out of the distribution. If you pay the taxes from your taxable savings, the dollar amount of the taxes certainly matters. You will then want to conserve your dollars.
If you have taxable savings but choose to take distributions from your retirement account, that converts those distributions to taxable savings, so it is still a wash. If you need to spend $30K, you can take $30K from your traditional IRA and spend $7500 of taxable savings to pay the tax, but this is equivalent to taking $22,500 from your Roth IRA and spending $7500 of taxable savings.

Conserving higher-value dollars does matter in a different context: converting the traditional account to a Roth account is worthwhile even in the same tax bracket. If you convert $40K from the traditional account to a Roth account and can stay in the 25% bracket, you lost $10K of taxable savings to pay the taxes, but you gained $10K of tax-free savings (and protected it from RMDs during your lifetime). However, this has little to do with asset location; you can convert $40K whether it is in stock or bonds.
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by dbr » Sun Nov 19, 2017 10:41 am

avalpert wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 9:04 am
fennewaldaj wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:13 am
Tyler Aspect wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:45 am
There is no need to project tax paid 30 years into the future, because the return into the future is unclear. We only need to consider our investment's current value for the purpose of rebalancing.

Variations of US tax laws treat each asset class differently according to account types. There is a placement preference table that is 4 X 3 by size. On one axis you have REIT / Bond / US Stock / International Stock. On the other axis you have taxable / traditional IRA / Roth IRA. To have the most tax optimal asset placement you need to consult this placement table.
The reason I brought up the tax paid in 30 years is that we know $1 in the Roth is worth more than $ in tradition or taxable but we don't know by how much. If we don't adjust the allocation its not really whatever its face value is. How much it is off is only apparent at a later date.
Tax is a future expense, the value of the assets are the same - it is more complex to try to conflate the two and doesn't help with decision making. You actually don't know that the Traditional will generate more tax expense than the Roth - it depends on your tax rate at the time which can in fact be 0.
The topic is addressed here: https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Tax-adj ... allocation

In previous discussions it becomes pretty evident that the practical effect of doing this is not large in most cases. I would say that if one wants to explore the issue one be sure to read the Reichenstein paper(s) and understand exactly what he is computing.

A simple alternative is to just recognize taxes as a cost item and move on.

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Advantages of Not treating all accounts as one

Post by EyeDee » Sun Nov 19, 2017 11:49 am

.
Fennewaldaj,

As indicated by others, there can be considerable cost to holding the same asset allocation (AA) in each account, but there can be some advantages, so if one does it they need to be aware of those costs and weigh the two situations carefully. By same asset allocation I mean the same stock/bond ratio, as one would probably want to hold different but similar actual funds in Taxable verses tax advantaged accounts if possible to avoid potential wash sale problems when selling funds in Taxable.

Also one might mitigate the cost some by having the AA only somewhat close. For example one could hold slightly higher percentage of stock funds in Taxable and Roth IRAs while holding slightly higher percentage of bond funds in Traditional IRAs. Of course one should still track the overall AA to make sure it matches the desired AA and some might find that more complicated.

Some of the advantages of holding same or similar AA in all accounts are:

Spouses IRA accounts do not vary drastically from other accounts causing them concerns.

One does not have to worry about taxes affecting the allocations as mentioned by you and being discussed by several others.

Some people find rebalancing individual accounts easier to do than trying to rebalance all accounts together as you mentioned.

If need/want withdrawal money from portfolio when stocks down in value and need to pull money from bonds before can withdraw without penalty or special procedures from Traditional IRA where most recommend that the bulk of bond funds be held, one does not need to play games of buying stocks in Traditional IRA to compensate for selling them in Taxable. Also one does not have to worry if have enough in stocks in Taxable to handle if stocks way down when situation arises unexpectedly.

One does not have to worry about Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) causing AA to get messed up if need to spend them instead of reinvesting them.

And probably most important a surviving spouse who does not like to be involved in investments does not have to worry about the above items if you die.

Remember it is a trade off that might cost you money. But it is your money and your decision.
fennewaldaj wrote:
Wed Nov 15, 2017 1:23 am
<t>So I am pretty new to the bogleheads form and wiki. I have noticed there is a strong preference for treating all accounts as one bucket as opposed to mirroring asset allocations in each account. I see the value in this approach and realize that is likely optimal in many circumstances such as when some of your accounts have good options for some things but not others. I fail to see how it makes things simpler. To me it seems to makes things more complicated for a couple reasons. To me rebalancing is much easier when you simply have to enter desired percentages for each account. The other complication in my mind is that different accounts have different post tax value. It is really only possible to guess at the exact relative post tax value of roths/traditional/taxable in say 30 years which makes it hard to be precise with your exact asset allocation. Is this just a difference in how I perceive simplicity vs others or am I missing something.</t>
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by Impromptu » Sun Nov 19, 2017 1:36 pm

Chalk me up as one that has equal allocations in each of my investment accounts. I find it simpler, about the same costs, little to no tax drag as I use Municipal bonds in my taxable, and will probably come out about the same over the next 30 years. Maybe less, maybe more.

To each his/her own.
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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by dbr » Sun Nov 19, 2017 1:48 pm

The real reason and origin for the "treating all accounts as one bucket" has to do with understanding one's asset allocation and the position one is in for risk and return. After that question is resolved there can be any number of practical answers as to how assets might be distributed for tax efficiency, depending on offerings available in different plans, to manage rebalancing, and for personal preference and convenience.

As to simplicity, one man's simple is another man's complex. Different people have a different sense of what is bother and what is complicated and what isn't.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by jhfenton » Sun Nov 19, 2017 1:58 pm

To answer the original question: Yes. It is simpler. In fact, I don't see how it's practical to mirror anything but the simplest allocation in every account.

In our case, we have 8 (usually 9) accounts spanning the range from low 5 figures to mid 5 figures to low 6 figures to mid 6 figures. When my wife starts her new 401(k), we'll briefly have a 4-figure account.

In our case, our 5 figure retirement accounts have 1 position each. No rebalancing needed. Our low 6 figure accounts have 2 to 3 positions. Our largest account carries the rebalancing load and has 10 positions (5 equity, 5 bond).

We do have 3 positions in our 5-figure taxable account, only because I want one position each of fixed income (munis = VOHIX), domestic equities (small cap value = VIOV), and international equities (VWO = emerging markets) to provide for tax-loss harvesting opportunities in different market segments.

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Re: Is treating all accounts as one bucket really simpler

Post by Garco » Sun Nov 19, 2017 2:17 pm

For us it's not practical, and not worth the effort to treat all accounts as one bucket. In all, we have 5 accounts. 1 403b retirement account (RA), 3 supplemental retirement accounts (403b and 457b), and 1 brokerage account (taxable).

I focus most of my attention on the main RA, since I grew up with it over several decades and it's the largest source of my income in retirement, in the form of RMD's.

I focus the least attention on the supplemental RA's because they are very small; but they have a different core lineup of funds from the main RA so I can't simply match or complement the main RA.

And I take an entirely different approach with the brokerage account both because income is taxable and because the set of available investments is virtually infinite, not defined at all by any sponsor as is the case for my retirement accounts.

These accounts add up to one bucket only to the extent that I take cash out of them all. Cash doesn't get INTO them through a common source.

So investment is complicated, but TBH a lot more interesting and fun precisely because of the diversity.

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