Betterment’s Retirement Advice Tools Explained

Betterment’s Retirement Advice Tools Explained


Define What Retirement Means To YouSetting Up Your Retirement Projections At BettermentUnderstanding Betterment’s RecommendationsTaking Action

Savings towards retirement is one of the most popular reasons people use Betterment. This makes sense, since almost everybody dreams of retiring some day (or at least having the option to quit working or switch careers, if they choose).

That’s why Betterment offers retirement tools in your account that allow you to define what retirement means to you, and then run projections that give guidance on whether your goal is on-track or off-track. Our advanced projections include key inputs like Social Security, inflation, life expectancy, and even investment accounts not held at Betterment.

Once you have your retirement projections setup in your retirement goal, Betterment will give you personalized advice on how much you should be saving towards retirement, which accounts are most optimal for you, and how you should be invested. You can even run different “what-if” scenarios to see how things like retiring earlier, or saving more, affect your projections.

Of course, we make it easy for you to then take action and make your money work for you. For example, you can open various types of retirement accounts. You can also enable our many automated tools to help you save more, manage your investments, and manage taxes. We even work to make rolling over other retirement accounts as easy as possible.

Let’s walk through each of these areas in more detail, so you can learn how to make the most of Betterment’s retirement planning tools.

Define what retirement means to you.

Each person’s retirement plan is unique. That’s why we allow you to tell us how and when you’d like to retire, and then we shape our advice around those inputs. Afterall, our advice will be very different if you plan on retiring at age 55 vs. age 75. This is what we call goal-based investing, where you tell us your various financial goals, and we give you advice on how to achieve them.

For many individuals, the initial step of defining retirement can be difficult. This is understandable. We often hear questions like “how do I know how much money I’ll spend in retirement?” or “can I retire tomorrow?” Don’t worry. Betterment built tools to help you answer these tough questions.

Once you open a retirement goal in your Betterment account, our retirement planning tool will walk you through how to estimate both your retirement spending and retirement age in order to set up your plan.

Estimating Retirement Spending

How much you would like to spend during your retirement is the most important driver of your retirement plan, but it is often the hardest part to predict. Maybe your kids will be independent by then, but health care may cost more. Maybe your house will be paid off, but you’ll also want to travel more. These are just a few examples of how some spending categories may decrease, while others may increase.

If you’re one of the few who happen to have a good idea of what you’d like to spend during retirement, we allow you to simply input that number. For those who are unsure, we have a helpful calculator that will automatically estimate a spending number for you. This number can serve as a starting point, but you can always override it.

We then estimate your retirement spending by running key data points through a spending estimate formula. This formula includes expected wage increases (which tend to be higher than general inflation), cost of living data for your particular zip code, and an estimated percentage of income used to support your lifestyle (i.e. spent on goods and services) based on data from individuals with similar income to you. While not an exhaustive list, these data points provide a useful spending overview that are factored into our advice.

Estimating Retirement Age

When you’ll retire is also difficult to predict. The choice isn’t always yours to make either, as can be the case with unexpected health issues or being forced out of work.

As with your retirement spending, if you have a particular retirement age in mind, you can simply enter it into our system. For those who are unsure, we default you to age 68, which is just beyond Full Retirement Age (FRA), as defined by the Social Security Administration, for many of our customers.

Making Changes And Updates

We know that life happens, and things change. The retirement plan you set up in your 30’s or 40’s may become outdated. That’s why we build flexibility into our retirement projections, and allow you to make changes to your plan.

You can easily update your desired retirement spending or desired retirement age at any time. When you do, we will automatically update our projections based on your new inputs. This way, you can ensure your retirement plan is always up-to-date.

In fact, we encourage you to review your retirement projections periodically for this exact reason. As a general guideline, you should review your retirement projections once per year, or after any major life event like a promotion, change in marital status, birth of a child, or other similar event.

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Setting Up Your Retirement Projections At Betterment

Now that you’ve defined what retirement means to you, it’s time to run some projections and determine if you seem on-track or off-track to meet your retirement goal. Betterment will calculate this for you, but first we need to gather some information about your situation. The more information you tell us, the more accurate our corresponding projections can be.

Existing Savings: Tell us which accounts you already have for retirement, so we can give you credit for the savings you already have. This should not include accounts that are set aside for other purposes, like emergency funds, buying a house, or your kid’s college. But it should include retirement accounts, even if they are not held at Betterment. Common examples of this are 401(k)s and your spouse’s retirement accounts as well. We recommend syncing these accounts to your Betterment account.Planned Future Savings: We can also factor in future retirement savings that you expect to make. Under each account, you can tell us how much you plan to contribute per year. You can even include employer matches, if applicable, to your workplace retirement accounts.Social Security Benefits: Social Security plays a key role in retirement for millions of Americans. We use your current income to estimate Social Security benefits according to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s benefit rules. We also adjust expected Social Security benefits based on projections from the Trustees Report. However, this is just an estimate, and you may prefer to instead login to your online Social Security account to view your official estimate and use that instead.Other Retirement Income: Some individuals may have other sources of retirement income, such as a pension or rental income. If this applies, you can enter that information into your projection inputs as well.Life Expectancy: We default your life expectancy to age 90, which is a conservative estimate compared to average life expectancies. Women tend to live longer than men, so keep this in mind as you adjust your retirement plan. You can always override our default age, if you’d like.

With all of these inputs, your retirement plan should be personalized to your situation. We then use our Goal Projection and Advice methodology to estimate if you appear to be on-track to reach your retirement goal or not. If you’re off-track, that’s okay. We’ll give you recommendations to get on-track, and make it easy to take action on those recommendations. We don’t expect change to happen overnight, and even knowing where you stand is a great first step.

Understanding Betterment’s Recommendations

With your retirement projections in place, Betterment can now give you personalized recommendations to help you get on-track, or even if you are already on-track, to help maximize your savings and investments. The recommendations we give should answer many common questions we hear from customers, such as:

How much should I be saving?Which accounts should I contribute to?How should I be invested?

How much should I be saving?

One of the most important recommendations we can give is telling you how much we estimate you should be saving per year to be on-track for retirement. Betterment will give you this top line number so that you have a target in mind to strive towards.

Which accounts should I contribute to?

For many people, you will need to combine multiple accounts to reach your goals and optimize your savings. Once you know how much you should be saving, we will also tell you which mix of accounts you should be putting those savings into, and show that to you in a prioritized list. This list includes things like tax bracket, employer match info, account fees, contribution limits, and more. This helps make sure your money is working as hard as possible for you.

In particular, the use of tax-advantaged retirement accounts are an important benefit to consider when saving for retirement. Contributions to Traditional 401(k), Traditional 403(b), and Traditional IRA accounts are typically tax-deductible, which means you contribute on a pre-tax basis and normally don’t pay taxes until you make withdrawals. Contributions to Roth 401(k), Roth 403(b), and Roth IRA accounts are not tax-deductible, which means you contribute on an after-tax basis but they grow tax-free.

How you contribute to your retirement accounts now can make a big difference over time. The earlier you invest, the more possibility there is for your investments to appreciate. This is especially true for retirement savings, because when you use tax-advantaged retirement accounts, such as IRAs or 401(k)s, all that time spent in the market can lead to benefits in tax-free growth.

How should I be invested?

Another critical component of your retirement plan is making sure you are invested appropriately. Betterment’s tools will give you feedback on key areas of your investments, even on your non-Betterment accounts. Our tools will give you feedback on how risky your investments are and if that risk level is appropriate given your time horizon to retirement.

As a default for our recommended actions, if you have 20 or more years until you retire, we recommend 90% stocks. Then, our investment advice reduces your risk over time until your retirement date, when it hits 56% stocks. Finally, it glides down to 30% stocks during retirement.

Our tools will also analyze your external accounts to determine if you seem to be paying more fees than you have to, and if you have too much cash sitting in your retirement accounts.

Taking Action

Even the best retirement plan won’t do you much good if you don’t take action. With Betterment’s smooth interface and powerful automation, taking action has rarely been easier.

Open multiple retirement accounts: Many people can benefit from having multiple retirement accounts, like Roth and Traditional accounts. This can help you optimize for taxes and save beyond the contribution limits that some accounts have.Enable tax management algorithms: Optimizing for taxes can help your money work harder for you. Betterment is known for our advanced tax strategies like tax loss harvesting and tax coordination, which can both be put on autopilot in your Betterment accounts at the flip of a switch.Select a portfolio strategy: Betterment offers multiple portfolio strategies, which allow you to customize your investments and choose the strategy that best fits your needs and preferences.Enable investment management algorithms: Betterment allows you to automate many areas of investment management like rebalancing and auto-adjusting your investments over time.Roll over retirement accounts: Consolidating your investment accounts into Betterment may help you ensure your retirement portfolio is working together in a seamless, automated manner.Enable automatic deposits: Making retirement savings automatic can help you save more, and make maxing out your retirement accounts easier.Add beneficiaries: Adding beneficiaries can help ensure your money goes where you want it to, even after you pass away.

All of these actions are important in setting up a comprehensive retirement plan that incorporates savings, investments, taxes, and more. Generally speaking, the earlier you start, the better off you’ll be. Start taking the above actions to set up your retirement plan at Betterment today.

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