Category Archives: Uncategorized

2017 Tax Legislation Calculator

With both the Senate and the House proposing substantial tax changes in the last few months of 2017, there has been a lot of discussion around the various plans and taxes in general. It would be almost impossible to craft tax legislation without some groups of people coming out better than other groups, and the current crop of legislation is no exception.

Unfortunately, these tax changes – and taxes in general – are very difficult to fully understand, and lots of people have been discussing these changes using information that is incomplete and/or incorrect. For example, it is easy to look at the reduction in tax rates but miss the fact that the personal exemption is gone. I’ve also seen lots of people using tax brackets incorrectly in popular Twitter posts.

I have my own personal views on these proposed pieces of legislation, but what I think about them isn’t very interesting. My goal, rather, is to help better inform the debate around them, because I think it is important to have these discussions with information that is as full and accurate as possible.

I’ve been working on a bunch of content that I’ll be releasing over the coming week, including blog posts explaining various parts of the tax system, some interactive calculators, and more. Tonight, I’m releasing an early version of my first interactive calculator that you can use to see how the proposed changes to the tax code would affect you. You can view it here.

This calculator is far from complete (I’m just one guy and there is limited time to build something like this, since the legislation is being considered now), but it does a decent job of including major changes that would impact most people. It is pretty simple and bare-bones, but I am working on a number of features that will hopefully not just educate you as to how much your taxes will change, but why.

Please check it out and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear about stuff I’m missing and, especially, how I could make it more useful for you.

Betterment substantially increases fees

I recently became familiar with Betterment since my employer switched to them for our 401k provider. I started looking into the services they provided, and became really intrigued by their automated investing and tax-loss harvesting. I’ve usually stuck with Vanguard and their low fees, but with a wrap fee of .15% if you had over $100k invested with them, it was tempting to try Betterment, since in theory, at least, the tax-loss harvesting would more than pay for the additional fees.

Getting all of my investments to them took a fair amount of time and money (though they made the process as easy as possible), and I was excited when I got my emails this morning saying my last 2 big accounts had been received by them.

Less than half an hour later, I got another email titled, innocuously, “New Betterment service plans for 2017”. Reading through the email, they discussed their new options that would allow you to use the services of a CFP, which is odd, given their pitch about automated investing, but not a big deal. Then, tucked down 4 paragraphs is the real reason for the changes:

Each plan will cost a simple, flat rate. Starting June 1, your Digital plan will be 0.25% per year of your average balance.

For accounts with over $100,000 in them, this represents an increase of 67% (from .15% to .25%)! And Betterment tries to make it as low-key as possible that they are increasing fees on us by a huge amount and not offering anything in return. I am really disappointed, both in the increase in fees and in the way they announced it – I had a high opinion of the company before this.

At this point, it looks like WealthFront is a better option. Both do a lot of the same things and offer similar features at a fixed .25% fee, but WealthFront manages the first $10,000 for free and offers a Direct Indexing service that lets you avoid ETF fees, making the combined fee substantially less than Betterment.

Fees should be getting cheaper as companies like this get more assets under management, not going higher by almost 70%, and companies should be more forthright in the way they raise fees.

New site – CashBack Optimizer

I’m pleased to announce a site I’ve been working really hard on the past month or so – CashBack Optimizer.

If you’re like me and like to maximize the cashback you get from your cashback credit cards by using the most optimal one for a given store/category, you know that keeping track of which card to use where can be a little tricky. So, I built a simple website that shows you the best card for any given category – it automatically tracks rotating bonus categories that Discover, Chase, and others use.

You can even signup (free) and create a wallet, which lists all of your cards and shows you the best card you own in every category. Finally, the site has reviews from a number of users of each card to help you learn more about any cards you may be interested in.

Cashback credit cards can be a great way to earn a little extra money every month (provided you are careful and never carry a balance), so I hope this site is useful to people.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Data Twister 1.1 released

Data Twister 1.1 has been released to the Mac App Store. It has a few small changes:

1) Fixed an issue where the input/output boxes didn’t scroll correctly in some cases when the text overflowed.

2) Added the ability to load a file to use as the input. This makes it handy for importing large amounts of data and also doing quick hash checks on files.

Get it here.

Data Twister 1.0 released

I’m happy to announce the release of my latest developer-focused Mac OS App – Data Twister. Data Twister is a small, but handy, utility for converting data between various representations. You can input data in plain text (UTF-8, or ASCII), Base64, Hex, and others. You can decrypt/encrypt (only AES in ECB mode is supported right now, but I’m working on others) the data, and then output it in various ways (UTF-8, Base64, hashes like MD5 and SHA, etc). Here is a sample screen:







There are lots of web-based tools to do each of these conversions, but having them all in one simple app has been a real timesaver for me as I’ve been using it. It is available today on the Mac App Store for $3.99. Some future enhancements I’m already at work on:

  • More encryption algorithms and modes
  • More input/output types (URL encoded, different text encodings, etc)
  • The ability to have file input/output

I hope you’ll check it out here and let me know what features will be useful for you!