Updates on Goals – Year 2021

It is shocking that we are already into the last month of the year 2021. I am so busy with life and work that I am unable to pay attention to everything else that is going on around me. Perhaps it is a sign to take things easy for a change and also not get too bogged down with responsibilities. As I write this, there is news about a new COVID-19 variant called Omicron that is supposedly originating from South Africa. At this point, I have pretty much resigned to the fact that COVID or some other variant of the virus will never go away and we will eventually run out of Greek alphabets trying to identify each variant.

But this post is, thankfully, not going to be discussing about COVID variants. Given that we are heading towards the end of the year and setting sights on 2022, I thought it is good time to look back at my year’s goals, review my progress and set new goals for the coming year.

Goal 1: Write atleast one post per week

Result: Not Achieved.

Maintaining a blog is a lot of work, much more work than one can imagine. Moreover, with a 9-5 job and also a family to take care of, I have very little personal time to do anything else. Why choose blogging then? For one simple reason: I really wanted to get back to writing and penning my thoughts down somewhere. Interestingly, writing helps me in my thought process. It forces me to introspect deeply about the subject. And since I am spending quite a lot of time thinking about retirement, financial independence through dividend growth investing, writing about these subjects would reinforce my own belief system on these subjects.

I kept a very lofty goal of one post per week this year, knowing fully well that I would most likely NOT be able to achieve this given my other responsibilities. But I wanted to try anyway. The pursuit would ensure that I keep writing often.

Although I missed posting every single week, I came pretty close than what I initially though. My average posting frequency was still pretty high for each month.

Goal 2: Div-Net associate membership

Result: Achieved.

My second goal this year was to engage meaningfully with the dividend investing community on the blogosphere and also the world wide web, in general. Through this blog and then, additionally, through Twitter, I have been able to reach out to several like-minded investors. Dividend growth investing can be very challenging. It is very common to sometimes lose focus and wonder if this is really is the right strategy. Talking to like-minded investors, listening and learning from their experiences helps immensely. There are so many alternative approaches within the umbrella of dividend growth investing that it helps to listen to counter viewpoints sometimes.

As far as the blogging community, I wanted to be a part of a network of bloggers who would blog on this subject. I learned about Div-Net by sheer accident, as I saw their badge appears on several blogs that I would regularly follow. I am happy that I was able to satisfy their entry criteria for associate membership.

Goal 3: $1000+ in annual dividend income

Result: Achieved.

Eventually, I decided to share my progress on my dividend portfolio mostly for my own self and I will continue doing so until it makes sense. If it happens to motivate someone in the process, I will consider that as a huge plus for myself.

I am happy to report that I am well past my stated goal of $1000+ for annual dividend income. Part of my goal when I started this blog was to report my monthly progress here. I thought about this pretty long and hard, because there is technically no reason for me to report my passive income on the internet. In fact, the dividend portfolio that I discuss on this blog is only a small portion of my net worth and I do not plan on disclosing the other portions of net worth.

Goals for Year 2022

I have penned down the following goals for the upcoming year:

  • Cover atleast 5 investing book reviews
  • Write alteast one blog post per week
  • Earn $3000+ in annual dividend income

The first goal will force me to read/re-read investing books that I have been on my “to read” list for a while. There is just no substitute to knowledge gained from reading books on investing, or any other subject for that matter. I have kept this to a reasonable number (5) thereby allowing me to read the book and deeply introspect on the subject matter.

The second goal is a repetition from last time. I want to be able to continue writing regularly on this blog and since I was not able to achieve this goal this year, I will try my best to hit this for the coming year. Fingers crossed.

The third goal also looks pretty aggressive. I have no idea what kind of expenses will hit my wallet in my coming year, so I do not know if I will be achieve a $3000+ figure on annual dividend income. Let us see how I do in that pursuit.

What goals do you have in mind for the upcoming year? Were you able to achieve your goals for the current year? Please let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading thus far…

M1 Finance : 1-year review

School season has begun here in the US, and as a parent, this usually means busy weekdays. But thankfully, I am going in with an investing strategy specifically catered to this very situation i.e. I can focus on my work and life while my invested capital works in the background to generate more cash.

I mentioned in one of my previous posts regarding how I have been using M1 Finance for my individual brokerage account to manage my dividend portfolio. I have now spent over an year with this firm and I thought it was a good time to sit down and start penning down my thoughts about this brokerage service, things I like about it, things that I don’t quite like as much and looking ahead.

Hopefully, this will serve as a honest review of the brokerage service for someone that is getting started in investing and looking around for a brokerage.

Why did I choose M1 Finance to begin with?

There are plenty of options available to the average retail investor in terms of brokerage services here in the US. Firstly, there are the big-name established brokerage firms that have been around for a long time such as: Vanguard, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, E-Trade etc. Then, there are the relatively newer options such as Robinhood, WeBull, Acorns, M1 Finance etc.

About an year back, I wanted to explore this space a little. I already had exposure to some of the big-name brokerage firms because of some employee-based stock plans, retirement accounts etc. And while these brokerage firms are stable and the services they offer are reliable, the overall experience of investing through them was a little inefficient. For instance, the user-interface (UI) available on the web-portal to the retail investor seems either so dated, or very confusing or just needs some improvement.

In contrast, the new kids-on-the-bloc were offering a refreshing experience in terms of the UI, including better mobile apps, zero-commission fees on trades and also the option of trading with fractional shares. The zero-commission fees on trades, in particular, was a significant game changer and, now, several of the big-name brokerages also offer the same service to the average retail investor. Given that I already had some accounts with the big-name brokerage firms, I decided to give one the newer options a try, and chose M1 Finance based on some initial research.

Another thought that was brewing in my head: While my wife generally has no interest in investments and finance-related matters in general, I did not want to scare here away by using a brokerage whose interface was too verbose, confusing and overwhelming for the first time user. Perhaps, a more beginner-friendly refreshing UI might even ease her into this work, if she wanted to dabble in it for any reason whatsoever.

M1 Finance – quick peek

M1 Finance has a unique approach in terms of how an investor can maintain his/her portfolio. The portfolio is maintained as a “pie”, wherein each pie is a collection of stocks or more pies called “slices”. M1 Finance offers a collection of example pies that the investor can choose from OR the investor is free to build his/her custom pie.

Image Source: M1 Finance

The investor can allocate percentages to each of the “slices” within the pie such that they total to a 100%. The allocations can be changed at any time during the life of the portfolio. When the investor deposits cash into the brokerage account, M1’s algorithm uses the cash to issue trades such that they conform the percentages allocations set by the investor. M1 also offers an “auto-invest” option such that this process can be automated. Whenever a specific allocation percentage goes over the target allocation set by the investor, M1 auto-trading algorithm classifies this slice weighting as overweight and instead invests any new deposited cash towards slice weightings that are underweight.

Trades on M1 can only happen during mornings when the markets open for the day. M1 plus, another tier of membership, offers afternoon trades as well. However, M1 plus membership comes at a cost of $125/year, at the time of writing this post.

M1 offers services such as regular individual brokerage account, Traditional and Roth IRA accounts, custodial accounts, trust accounts etc. They also offer other banking services such as M1 spend (debit card), M1 credit card with 2% cash back that gets automatically reinvested into your investment account, M1 borrow (loans) etc. I have not used any of the other services outside of the investment account.

Source: Reddit

The Good

  1. Excellent user-interface: The user-interface for both the website as well as the mobile APP (I have tried iPhone APP) are phenomenal and refreshingly better than some of the big-name counterparts. I have generally never had any issues with the UI and it has operated reliably during the last one year. It is extremely easy to place a trade and very easy to track portfolio performance using their time-weighted return metric. The landing page of your portfolio typically shows a graph of over portfolio’s total worth since the day it was first created. In addition, it is easy to track how much dividends have been earned during the entire lifetime of the portfolio, or simply doing the last week, month or day. It appears that M1 has eliminated a lot of clutter and kept the user-interface simple for the beginner investor.
  2. Unique approach to portfolio management: The “pie” based view does take a little while to get used to, but once you get it, it is actually a pretty simple way to manage a portfolio. For instance, your portfolio could be based on something like a lazy 3-fund portfolio i.e. three ETFs or index funds: one corresponding to the total stock market, one to the total bond market and one the international stock market with a percentage split for each of the funds. It makes complete sense to have this represented as a “pie” with each “slice” being one of these three funds. It then becomes very easy to which “slice” has grown to be overweight and where you could deposit your capital to ensure that your target allocations are maintained.
  3. Auto-invest: The auto-invest feature is pretty interesting. If I wanted to put my portfolio management into “auto-pilot” mode, I could do so with M1’s auto-invest feature. I would simply need to setup a “auto-deposit” from my banking account such that a fixed amount of cash would be withdrawn each month/week and deposited into my brokerage account. Once the cash lands here, it will be automatically used for trading per the target allocations for each of my stocks/slices. This removes emotion out of the investing and place trades at regular intervals by simply dollar-cost averaging into positions that are underweight.
  4. Fractional shares : I think this particular feature is a game-changer. If I can own a piece of Amazon (ticker: AMZN, trading at $3316 at the time of writing) or Google (ticker: GOOGL, trading at $2828 at the time of writing) with just $50, that is not at all a bad deal. There is a good possibility that I may not have enough capital at a given time to own one share of AMZN or GOOGL. A lot of the big-name counterparts still do not offer fractional shares but this is slowly changing.

The Bad

  1. Customer Service: The customer service experience with M1 has been a mixed bag. While it was pretty great when I started out with it, there were days when it would be impossible to get a real person to talk to either over the phone or via email. This is a pretty fundamental aspect of a brokerage service. I should be able to reach out and talk to a real person if I have questions about the account, my statements or any feature on the portal.
  2. Moving holding between “pies”/”slices”: This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of M1 Finance. If you add a stock to a particular “pie”, and invest with that configuration, if you have to move the same stock over to a different “pie”, you cannot do so readily and there is a possibility that the act of doing so will cause you to sell the stock and then re-buy it for the same amount in the new pie configuration. This is not ideal for several reasons: this would change by cost-basis for the stock, and would also be classified as a taxable event. To explain this with an example, say I was interested in investing in Visa (ticker: V), but I placed in a pie called “Finance” and bought 10 shares of V. Say I now wanted to move this holding into a new pie called “Technology” (because Visa can be classified as a Technology company as a well), I would not be able to do so without first selling my shares for V from my “Finance” pie and then re-buying shares worth the same amount in my new “Technology” pie. It appears that people have been requesting this feature since the last few years now, but M1 does not really have a clear answer for this.
  3. Apex clearing house: M1 uses Apex as their clearing firm on the back-end. While this has not turned out to be a huge problem during the last year, I need to open a separate account with Apex clearing to have access to data regarding my portfolio with M1, such as stock trades placed, cost basis etc. I would rather have this data be made available through M1 itself rather than have to go through a second source of information.
  4. FINRA / SIPC: Reputable brokerage firms in the US are all registered members of SIPC and/or FINRA. Per SPIC regulations, M1 Finance can support customer claims of upto $500,000, with $250,000 is cash claims. While M1, through their Apex clearing house, claims to have additional insurance over SIPC coverage, it is not clear if it would be a safe option to maintain your assets with this firm if and when your portfolio exceeds this amount. In comparison, the big-name brokerage firms have been around for a lot more longer and are more reputable and trust-worthy for larger portfolios.
  5. Trading windows: As things stand, M1 only allows you to trade stocks at one (two if using M1 plus) time during the day. And this is early in the morning when markets open up. This clearly means that M1 is NOT suitable for day-trading. This is not such a huge deal for me, since I am a long-term investor, Having said that, I would like to have the flexibility to buy stocks when I please or when I sense an opportunity at any stage during the day when the markets are open. I would like decide for myself when to buy or sell a stock rather than have a restriction imposed on me due to my brokerage service.

Summary

I am pretty happy with trying out M1 for a year, but I think the time has come to move my investing journey over to a different brokerage due to the cons I have listed above. At present, Fidelity seems to be offering a good option for a move. They are a firm that has been around for a really long time. So I will have absolutely no concerns about insurance coverage for my assets if it grows into a large value. They have recently updated their user-interface to catch up to the modern age, offer fractional shares (atleast through their mobile app) etc.

Eventually, I would also like to begin trading options to supplement my monthly dividend income. M1 does not offer this option at present, and Fidelity does.

The transfer of assets from M1 will result in a taxable event, since the existing fractional shares will not be transferred and would have to be sold. But this is not so much of a concern for me since this move is the right thing to do from a long-term perspective.

I might return back to M1 Finance for a new account if things improve and if they have actively worked on some of my concerns listed above.

Until next time…

Disclosure: Long V, No positions in AMZN, GOOGL in my dividend portfolio.

Welcome!

I am creating this blog to record my personal journey towards financial independence through dividend growth investing. My hope is to use this as a medium to record my progress towards my goal and gain inspiration through the vibrant community of dividend growth investors on the blogosphere.

I will be sharing updates on my dividend portfolio on this blog and also providing monthly updates on income received, as is the customary practice of several such blogs.

Before going ahead though, I would like to state that I am no expert in this field and what you will read on this blog should not be considered as financial advice. Please consider seeking the assistance of a licensed financial advisor before investing in the stock market.

Why Dividend Growth Investing?

There are several investing strategies out there. So it is important to state why I have chosen this specific strategy for investing. Here are some specific reasons:

  • Truly passive strategy: This is a fairly important consideration. I am a working professional with a regular 9-5 job. Beyond that, I am also married and have a young kid. So my time (and mental bandwidth) is fairly limited. Simply put, it is impossible for me to track the stock market on a day-to-day basis. Hence, any strategy for investing needs to be passive in nature. I can spend time infrequently / up-front doing my research in the stocks I want to own, buy such stocks at a reasonable valuation and then continue to invest in them from that point on and let these businesses generate cash for me.
  • Creates a second line of income: which is passive in nature. I can let my money work for me while I am asleep.
  • “Buy-and-hold” by definition: My decade-long experience in the stock market has convinced me that a buy-and-hold strategy is more suitable to my style of investing. Dividend Growth Investing, at its heart, relies on this strategy as well. One simply needs to invest in high-quality businesses that return back cash its shareholders in the form of dividends. These dividends are re-invested back into the market in the same or other such high-quality businesses. Furthermore, these businesses consistently increase their dividends paid to their shareholders. Over the course of time, the compounding that ensues as a result of this, creates a snowball machine that generates steady cash flows.
  • Focuses on high-quality companies: If done right, this strategy will lead the investor towards picking businesses that are stable, growing and reliable. This is extremely important to ensure that the generated cash flow is reliable in nature.

While the primary focus of this blog will be geared towards updates regarding my dividend portfolio and my approach to dividend growth investing, I also plan to write about topics related to retirement and personal finance.

Thank you for reading thus far. Please feel free to drop a comment to say “hi”. I would love to hear from you and hope to learn from you throughout the course of this journey.