This article is about the differences between the onboarding steps to My Financial Plan, where you type in estimates of your financial details, and the connected state, when we have more detailed information based on the actual activity in the accounts you have linked directly to the tool.
The “Onboarding” section below outlines the assumptions and limitations of My Financial Plan's onboarding steps. The “Connecting Accounts” section describes the benefits of linking your financial institutions to My Financial Plan.
When you first enroll in My Financial Plan, you will be prompted to complete a series of six steps. For each of these steps, you can simply enter ballpark estimates, just to try out the tool and get a sense of its capabilities. During Onboarding, the planning capabilities and projections for My Financial Plan are based on general assumptions, and may not provide an accurate picture of your financial situation, because we only have a rough estimate of your finances. The onboarding process is designed to provide an introduction to My Financial Plan and give you a sense of the tool’s utility, and inspire you to connect your accounts to it. However, My Financial Plan uses different assumptions and methodologies to inform your plan once you link accounts.
The first question we ask is your date of birth. This lets us build your timeline, which is the foundation for everything that comes next in My Financial Plan. If you would like to change your birthday later, My Financial Plan offers an option to do so in the menu on the upper right-hand side of the screen.
Then we ask you to enter your annual pre-tax income. This could be for you individually or for your household. You can enter rough numbers for these onboarding questions, as we’re just trying to give you a sense of how My Financial Plan works.
You’ll also have the option to enter an income growth rate. We’ll use this rate to project how much your income will grow in the future.
After entering your income, we introduce you to the My Financial Plan events, by putting four events on your timeline - New Job, Quit Job, Retire, and End of Life. You can customize these events by clicking on them and editing their default variables. You can also drag and drop an event to a different place on the timeline or remove a life event by dragging it to the trash.
Next we ask you to estimate your monthly expenses. We show the average monthly balance of all the American Express Cards you’ve added to My Financial Plan and ask you to estimate your additional monthly expenses. Based on this expense estimate we project your future expenses. For more information about how My Financial Plan handles expenses or inflation after onboarding when you connect accounts, please see these articles.
Next in Onboarding, we turn to savings and investments. We ask you to estimate your cash, investment, and retirement assets. Again, if you don’t know the exact numbers off the top of your head, estimates are fine here. You can always adjust these amounts later.
For onboarding, we assume that your investment and retirement assets are all comprised of stocks and we use the ticker symbol VTI, which is Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index ETF, to project the future value of these assets. If you connect your investment and retirement accounts to My Financial Plan after onboarding, we will be able to use your actual investments to project the future value of these accounts. We project the future value of most assets using Finmason. For more information about how we project asset growth, please see this article.
The last onboarding items for My Financial Plan are your total outstanding debt and your total monthly payment toward your debts. For onboarding only, we assume that the debt you've entered is 30-year amortized mortgage at 4% interest. If you connect your accounts to My Financial Plan, we will be able to detect various debts and make suggestions to help you pay them off. But, as you get started with onboarding, this simple approach will hopefully give you a sense of what My Financial Plan can do.
If you have more than $100,000 in debt, we’ll ask you to enter the total value of your real estate. If you enter an amount for the value of your real estate, we will assume that this asset will grow using the proxy ticker symbol VNQ, the largest real estate ETF on the market. If you don’t have any real estate, just enter $0 here.
For more information about how we project asset growth, please see this article.
Finally, to further customize your financial plan, you can add your next big life event. My Financial Plan offers an extensive list of life events to choose from, but we start with the four most common ones. Adding life events is easy. Simply click on the event tile, then drag and drop where you’d like it to appear on your timeline.
As mentioned earlier, directly connecting your financial accounts to My Financial Plan isn’t required, but it is beneficial. There are three main benefits to connecting your financial institutions to My Financial Plan:
Once you’ve completed the onboarding steps and have linked your accounts, your plan is good to go. You can view projections based on your current financial standing, try different scenarios related to big life events, and enjoy financial peace of mind.