Archives for April 2, 2015

ComputerShare and Company-Specific DRIP Plans: Still A Good Option in 2015?

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drip200Here’s a reader question that arrived this week:

I know you write a lot about investing, but can you write a little more about ComputerShare as a way to save money vs buying stock with online brokerages. I just read in WSJ how its cheaper if you are a buy and hold kind and its just as good as someone holding your paper stock certificates.

I am assuming that the WSJ article in question is the one about Ronald Read, the maintenance worker and janitor who saved up $8 million using DRIP plans.

A thrifty lifestyle, solid investing acumen, plenty of patience and the benefits of compounding were at the center of the story of Ronald Read—the quiet and simple-living Vermonter who enjoyed playing the stock market and left behind a nearly $8 million estate when he died last year at the age of 92.

Dividend Re-Investment Plans (DRIPs) traditionally refer to companies that let individuals to buy their shares directly from them and then allow them to automatically reinvest any dividends into more shares. Reinvesting those dividends increased the number of shares owned, and when combined with per-share price appreciation often leads to significant gains over time.

DRIPs were one of the first low-cost, buy-and-hold investment strategies. Stock commissions used to run over $30 per trade, whereas many DRIP plans let you buy shares for free or just a few bucks. This allowed mom-and-pop investors to put away as little as $25 a month without the entire nut being eaten by fees.

I started learning a tiny bit about investing in the late 1990s, which was near the rise of the online broker and the beginning of end of for DRIP plans. I still remember buying a book about DRIPs from Moe’s Books (used book store that is still going!) and being very fascinated by the idea. These days, paper certificates are pretty much gone and transfer agents like ComputerShare manage DRIP plans for most companies electronically. ComputerShare manages plans for Procter & Gamble, ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, AT&T, Verizon, and several more.

For the most part, there are better low-cost, buy-and-hold options out there now. Let’s take a look at the Coca-Cola DRIP plan. It costs $10 to set up, $2 per automatic purchase a $0.03 per share processing fee. Reinvestment of dividends cost 5% of amount reinvested up to a maximum of $2.00. You need $500 to start and there is a $50 ongoing minimum investment.

Every company has different rules, and sometimes there is a purchase price discount. However, you are still buying individual stocks so what happens when you end up holding a Enron, MCI Worldcom, or even a Kodak or Sears? You could juggle 30 different stock plans like Ronald Read did – one of his stocks bombed too but his diversification protected his portfolio – but that gets to be a lot of work and paying $2 times 30 starts adding up.

Now consider that you can buy an ETF like the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI) with zero commission and zero setup fees from Vanguard or TD Ameritrade and holds 3,800 stocks for you all at once for an expense ratio of $5 a year per $10,000 invested. If you like the dollar-based simplicity of DRIPs (all of your $50 a month gets invested in partial shares), you can buy the mutual fund version (VTSMX) at Vanguard which supports fractional shares and free automatic dividend reinvestment.

Even if you still wanted to buy individual stocks, many discount brokers including TradeKing and TD Ameritrade offer low commissions and free dividend reinvestment. Hold one stock or 100, all on a single statement. The Robinhood app lets you buy stocks with zero commission if you have a smartphone. You can buy up to 30 stocks at once for $9.95 at Motif Investing.