For investors, fall tends to be a hotter season than summer.
So find a mellow moment before the summer ends to review your investments in peace. Prepare for any dramatics this fall before events start exposing any flaws in your portfolio.
Presented here are some online investing tools and calculators to help with your portfolio analysis. Work your way through them to ensure your investments are ready for any season.
Address your debt situation
High levels of household debt suggest there are plenty of people who should be putting a bigger emphasis on paying what they owe as opposed to investing new money. For a personalized view of whether extra money should go into debt repayment or your portfolio, try the Pay Down Debt or Invest calculator from the Ontario Securities Commission's Get Smarter About Money website.
Get the right portfolio mix
Considering how important asset allocation is to investing success, it's a surprise that there are so few tools online to help investors find a personalized mix of stocks and bond. The Investor Profile Calculator from software developer Ativa Interactive throws 10 questions at you about your age, financial profile and risk tolerance and then provides a basic portfolio mix of cash, stocks and bonds. I tried this calculator for myself and got a mix of 70 per cent stocks, 20 per cent bonds and 10 per cent cash. The cash weighting seems high – for myself, I'd probably add 5 percentage points or more to bonds.
See if you're on track to meet your goals
Try the Savings Goal calculator from TMX Money (offered by the people who operate the TSX and other markets) if you're striving to reach a certain asset level in your investments or savings. An ideal use of this tool would be to gauge how long it will take to build a set level of retirement savings or maybe a house down payment. Plug in the particulars of your savings program and you'll be shown the years and months it will take to reach your goal. A rough rule is that goals you hope to reach in five years or fewer require a conservative savings approach (high-interest savings accounts or GICs), while longer time frames allow you to invest in stocks to some extent.
Get real about fees
Any reputable adviser or money manager will agree that investment returns are likely to be more modest in the years ahead than they have been historically. We are living in an era of slower growth than in the past and this will be reflected in the returns of stocks and bonds. For this reason, you'll want to pay extra close attention to your investing costs to ensure you're getting good value. To start, try a website called The Wealth Game. Provide a few portfolio details and find out how much of your returns were eaten by fees. To compare the fees of two separate investments, try the Investment Fee Calculator from the B.C. Securities Commission. And, to see how your advisory fees compare to what other investors are paying, try our investment-fee disclosure tool (for Globe Unlimited subscribers).
Mind your taxes
If you invest in a non-registered account, you're no doubt familiar with the hassles of tracking your adjusted cost base (the cost of an investment used for tax reporting) and capital gains. Distributions of income may affect your ACB over time, while multiple purchases of a stock can make it difficult to calculate your capitals gain or loss when you sell. For help, try the Adjusted Cost Base website. Just add the stocks or exchange-traded funds you own and let the software take over. There's a premium service at $49 a year that will generate an annual report of your capital gains and losses.
Understand bonds and dividend stocks
Dividend stocks are in no way interchangeable with bonds and guaranteed investment certificates. But one of the realities of living in a low-interest world is that many investors are replacing part of their holdings in bonds and GICs with riskier dividend stocks.
The 2017 Interest-Rate Equivalents Calculator from Investing For Me shows you why. Add the dividend yield you're getting from a stock in a taxable account and it will present you with the interest rate you'd need to generate the same level of after-tax income. In Alberta with an income of $100,000, you'd need a yield of 5.3 per cent on a bond or GIC to equal a 4-per-cent dividend yield.
Track your stocks and funds
News, charts, screens, portfolio tracking and tonnes of investing commentary are available on Globeinvestor.com. The Watchlist feature is great for keeping an eye on stocks or funds you're considering for your portfolio.
Get a second opinion on your stock choices
Please tell me you don't buy stocks just on the say so of a Bay Street money manager appearing on TV. You might get an honest appraisal from these people, or a self-interested view that justifies a manager's decision to buy or sell a particular stock. It's a different matter if you simply want to see what investing pros are saying about a particular company as part of your own research process.
For that kind of intel, check out StockChase and its well-maintained database of who's saying what about which stocks on TV.
Consider the robo-adviser option
There are two over-riding reasons to use a robo-adviser to manage your investments – the convenience of having pros manage your portfolio for you and costs that are much closer to do-it-yourself investing than having an adviser.
To compare robo-advisers on cost, try the Invest Better online investment fee calculator. Provide some basic details and get a chart comparing fees at nine robos and a couple of other investing options.
Consider delaying your Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits
Delaying the start of CPP and OAS benefits as late as age 70 will result in larger monthly payouts. Use the CPP & OAS Optimizer on MoneyPages.ca to find out how much extra you'll get per payment and over a lifetime based on your projected life expectancy. Delaying CPP and OAS can make sense if you expect a long life, and you have the savings to carry you until your benefits kick in. Time to see if your retirement portfolio is up for it.
I highlight financial tools and calculators in every edition of my twice-weekly e-mail newsletter, Carrick on Money. Click here to subscribe.