Why the Average Investor Performs so Poorly

When Average Isn’t Enough

Everyone knows that exotic dancers are bad at investing. After all, they always end up losing their shirts. 😆 But they are not alone. Most people in general are simply not very successful at investing.

According to BlackRock, the largest financial management company in the world with nearly $5 trillion of AUM, the average American investor managed to make only 2.11% return per year over the past 2 decades. 😱


The saddest part is how this number is even lower than inflation, lol. So in terms of real returns people actually lost money. 🙁 There are many reasons for this low performance. Investors’ sentiments, emotions, and personal goals are all factors. But the reason I want to discuss today is the improper use of investment tools.

Why People Are Generally Bad at Investing

Reason 1 – Not using tax sheltered vehicles

The Roth IRA is a great example of a tax savings vehicle that many American investors have overlooked. In Canada we have the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) which has similar benefits; Any investment gains realized within this account is tax free. 🙂

The first problem is that most people don’t use it. According to the CRA, in 2013 only 38% of eligible Canadians have opened TFSAs. The second issue is those who do have this account aren’t making the most of the tax savings. Data from RBC Royal Bank suggests that its clients tend to play it safe when it comes to their TFSA with 44% of holdings in high interest savings accounts. *Yawn* Another 21% is invested in GICs which are also producing rock bottom returns right now. This means only the remaining 35% of the money in TFSAs are actually used for proper investments that hold stocks, bonds, and other asset classes that have a decent chance at beating inflation.

This essentially means that only about 13% of TFSA eligible Canadians are using the investment vehicle correctly. But even less have taken maximum advantage of it because only 7% have fully maxed out their contributions. Of course everyone has different financials goals, which alludes to my post about the debt spectrum. So it may be perfectly suitable for a retiree to put all of his savings into a GIC if it suits his investment objectives. But in general 2.11% should not be the target most investors should aim for. 😉

Taxation is one of the costliest expense on investment returns. If more investors make better use of tax advantaged accounts they can leave more money in their own pockets. 🙂

Random Useless Fact:

33% of Harvard University students get the following question wrong.


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Tragic Johnson
Tragic Johnson
09/26/2016 7:24 am

The ball is 5 cents! fight me IRL

Financial Canadian
09/26/2016 7:41 am

If the TFSA contribution limits is continually increased at 5.5k per year indefinitely, an investor who contributes the maximum every year should have no problems in retirement. Just some food for thought.

Finance Journey
09/26/2016 1:25 pm

Good point Liquid, I still have some rooms for TFSA contribution 😀 .

Answer : ball is 5 cents ..

Best Regards,

09/26/2016 3:11 pm

You should easily be able to get 10% per year in a TFSA or RRSP with not a ton of risk

09/27/2016 5:56 am

According to BlackRock:
S&P 8.5% 15%SD
Diversified 7.4% 10%SD

The diversified portfolio has a final value 20% less than the S&P-only portfolio. However, volatility is a major cause of investors selling off and inflicting permanent loss to their portfolio. With 33% less volatility, the diversified portfolio would probably be the best choice for most people.

The “average investor” data is not exactly a complete picture (but why would I ever expect that on a PF blog?) — it’s mutual fund accounts ONLY (from Dalbar stats).

Of interest is how gold performed — only 3% less per year for a shiny rock which produces nothing than the 500 largest multinational corporations in the US. Seems like a whole heck of a lotta work for just 3%.

09/27/2016 6:47 am
Reply to  Anon

The problem with gold is secure storage, especially since my IRAs which allow gold have custodial fees on top of their transaction fees. Also gold has much less favorable tax treatment for capital gains, since it is taxed at the 28% collectibles rate. Of course I only know the rules for the US, so the rules are probably different for other places.

09/27/2016 10:26 pm
Reply to  Brian

In the $100,000 BlackRock example, you could have bought ~250 one-ounce gold coins. ALL of those would have fit into a normal SDB, the cost of which is tax deductible. Ergo, no cost to hold gold. Also no cost to sell gold unless you sell all 250 at once.

09/27/2016 9:03 pm

Where can you buy a baseball for 5¢?

Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess) I’m no longer eligible to get the tax advantaged benefit of a Roth IRA. The Roth IRA’s we did manage to open several years ago are doing great!

Thanks for sharing!

09/28/2016 6:25 pm

Hi, I just want to ask you for an opinion on this, or just what you think about the idea? I also live in Vancouver. I’m thinking about investing in a small/cheap property in Portugal. I just want to see what you think? I’ve recently visited Portugal and saw a very nice country, with good infra-structure. But right now seem to have lack of money, lack of private investment and low wages. The difference is, the EU has even lower int rates than Canada, but still the prices there are far from bubble (except Lisbon and the Algarve, Holiday region). It appears to be increasing in the last year or two, looking at Stats. I briefly spoke to a bank Manager while there and she said we can get a mortgage there even being Canadians and not living there… and rates vary from 1.5% to 2.5% usually. I also met a guy there where I stayed using AIRBNB (in the town of Evora, smaller university, historic town). He is an Engineering, has a small reno company and also rent rooms for students and short term in summer. He said the best is to buy, renovate and flip. As an example… Read more »

09/28/2016 6:28 pm
Reply to  Rafael

or maybe even buy, renovate and rent it to pay the mortgage… hold it for a bit longer before selling.
Mortgage on 50 grand must be a couple of hundred only a month.