Put Savings on Autopilot

Put Savings on Autopilot


Got $50? Then do yourself a favor, mutual-fund investors. Sign up for an automatic investment plan.

These plans force you to save money before you spend it. And they create another good habit, because they use a tried-and-true investing strategy known as dollar-cost averaging. You make periodic small purchases of a fixed dollar amount of fund shares, buying more shares when prices are low and fewer when prices are high.

The most common way to do automatic investing is through a 401(k) retirement plan at work. But automatic savings needn’t stop there.

Many mutual-fund companies offer automatic investment programs, which allow investors to arrange for monthly sums to be zapped from their checking or savings accounts into a fund of their choice. The fund accounts can be taxable or tax-advantaged, but there’s less exasperating paperwork with a tax-favored retirement account, such as a Roth IRA.

To reel you in, many fund groups will lower the minimum initial investment for people who sign up for automatic plans. After all, these plans help fatten a fund company’s bottom line. As more dollars flow in, it can collect higher annual expenses, which are based on a percentage of fund assets.

Automatic investment plans are a good thing, says David Yeske, a certified financial planner with San Francisco’s Yeske & Co. “It creates an entry point for people who otherwise wouldn’t have it available to them,” he says. “Secondly, it gets people in the habit of saving. It’s automatic — they don’t have to think about it.”

And so, in honor of those whose New Year’s resolutions were to get their financial houses in order, we ran a computer-driven fund screen to compile a list of automatic investment programs offered by the biggest no-load fund groups around (minus those tainted by the recent fund scandals). If your favorite financial firm isn’t included below, a quick call to its toll-free 800 number will confirm whether it, too, offers an automatic investment plan. Keep in mind that many brokerage firms also offer the plans.

You have no excuse not to get started with fund groups that don’t even require an initial investment. USAA, which caters in part to military families, will let you open an account on just the promise of regular $50 contributions thereafter. (For a handful of funds, $20 will do.) Of course, you can always invest more. Some other fund groups allow investors to jump in with a mere $50, including TIAA-CREF, T. Rowe Price and Artisan.