Q&A: How to find the right balance when investing

Dear Liz: My brokerage wanted me to start moving from stocks that paid me steady dividends into bonds as I got older. If I’d followed that advice, I wouldn’t be nearly where I am today. I sleep just fine with my dividends. Things can change, of course, but until I see solid evidence otherwise, I am sticking with my plan. I have no idea why the brokerage is still pushing the “more bonds with advancing age” idea.

Answer: Presumably you were invested during the financial crisis and saw the value of your stocks cut in half. If you can withstand that level of decline, then your risk tolerance is a good match for a portfolio that’s heavily invested in stocks.

The problem once you retire is that another big drop could have you siphoning money for living expenses from a shrinking pool. The money you spend won’t be in the market to benefit from the rebound. This is what financial planners call sequence risk or sequence-of-return risk, and it can dramatically increase the odds of running out of money.

Perhaps you plan to live solely off your dividends, but there’s no guarantee your buying power will keep up with inflation. Most people, unless they’re quite wealthy, wind up having to tap their principal at some point, which leaves them vulnerable to sequence risk.

There’s another risk you should know about: recency bias. That’s an illogical behavior common to humans that makes us think what happened in the recent past will continue to happen in the future, even when there’s no evidence that’s true and plenty of evidence to the contrary. During the real estate boom, for example, home buyers and pundits insisted that prices could only go up. We saw how that turned out.

Bonds and cash can provide some cushion against events we can’t foresee. The right allocation varies by investor, but consider discussing your situation with a fee-only financial planner to see how it aligns with your brokerage’s advice.

Investment fees could leave you old and broke

You want to save as much as possible for retirement. The financial services industry wants to make as much money off you as it can.

That thorny conflict is at the heart of the battle over what is known as the “fiduciary rule.” If implemented, it would require financial advisers to put clients’ best interests first when counseling them about retirement savings. In practice, it typically would prevent financial pros from steering you into a high-cost investment if similar low-cost choices are available.

The differences in fees — often fractions of a percent — may sound minuscule.

Over time, though, higher fees can dramatically reduce the amount of money that investors accumulate for retirement, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission and other investor watchdogs, and significantly increase the chances that savers will run out of money late in life.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how to save money for retirement without making the financial services industry even richer.

Q&A: Investors need to stop trying to time the market

Dear Liz: My 25-year-old son is a new investor. He put $11,000 ($5,500 each for 2016 and 2017) into an IRA in a money market fund with a discount brokerage firm. He doesn’t want to get into the market yet because he thinks it is in a bubble. I’m afraid with this strategy, he could be sitting there for a long time losing out to inflation. How would you present this argument?

Answer: You might ask him when he plans to enter the market. When stocks fall 10%? 20%? More? If stocks do tumble to his target level, there are likely to be plenty of scary headlines indicating that the market could fall further. Will he be able to follow through on his plan or will he put off investing — and miss the inevitable rise that will follow?

Newbie investors, and even some more experienced ones who should know better, often think that they can time the market. They can’t. They’re better off diving in with a well-diversified portfolio and adding to it regularly without worrying about the day-to-day swings of the market. Your son won’t need this money for decades, so there’s no sense fretting about what might happen tomorrow or next week. Over the next 40 years, he’ll see significant gains — but only if he gets off the sidelines and puts his money to work.

Q&A: Professional investment management fees

Dear Liz: I have an IRA with over $100,000 at a discount brokerage. I had it in a target date fund. Due to market downturns, I got nervous and was convinced to put my investment into the brokerage’s portfolio advisory services with additional fees coming to $1,600 per year. In general, is it wise to change investments to these more professional services?

Answer: If professional management keeps you from bailing out of your investments when markets decline, then paying a higher fee may be justified. But the higher the fees you pay, the less money you can accumulate. For example, your IRA could grow to more than $600,000 over 30 years if you net a 6% return. If your fees are one percentage point higher, and you net just 5%, you’d end up with less than $450,000.

Some discount brokers, including Schwab, Fidelity and Vanguard, now offer a low-cost “robo” option that invests your money using computer algorithms. These robo options don’t offer the highly customized investment portfolios that some other services provide, but they come at a much lower cost — typically 0.3% to 0.4%. A few, including Vanguard and Betterment, offer access to financial advisors.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to manage your investments during the Trump presidency. Also in the news: How to dig out from December’s debt, why ‘Buy Online, Pick Up in Store’ is a double-edged sword, and the first thing you should do after paying off a big debt.

How to Manage Your Investments During the Trump Presidency
Practical suggestions to help stay the course.

How to Dig Out From December’s Debt

‘Buy Online, Pick Up in Store’ Is a Double-Edged Deal
The pros and cons of convenience.

The First Things You Should Do After Paying Off a Big Debt
Don’t dive back into the debt hole.

Q&A: What to consider when investing in target date retirement funds

Dear Liz: I have 100% of my 401(k) in a fund called “Target Retirement 2030.” This fund is made of several other funds, so does that qualify as “diversified”?

Answer: It does. Target date funds have become increasingly popular in 401(k) plans because they do the heavy lifting for investors. The funds select asset allocations and grow more conservative in their mix as the retirement date approaches.

Target date funds aren’t perfect, of course. Some are too expensive. The typical target date fund charges about 1%, but Vanguard and Fidelity charge as little as 0.15%.

Another issue is the “glide path” — how quickly the funds get more conservative. There’s no consensus about what the right glide path should be, and investment companies offer a lot of different mixes. Any given glide path may be too steep for some people and too shallow for others, depending on their circumstances. As an investor, you can compensate for that by choosing funds dated later or earlier than your targeted retirement date. If the 2030 fund gets too conservative too fast for your taste, for example, you could choose the 2040 fund instead.

Despite the downsides, you’re likely to be much better off in a target date fund than you are in some of the other options. Too often novice investors take too much or too little risk without realizing it. They may have all of their money in “safe” low-return options, which means they’re losing ground to inflation. Or they may have all their money in stocks, including their own company’s stock, and would be unprepared for a downturn wiping out a good chunk of their portfolio’s value.

Even those who know they should diversify often do it wrong by randomly distributing their contributions across their investment options. If you don’t know what you’re doing, or you simply prefer investing professionals to take charge, target date funds are a good way to go.

Q&A: Tips for divvying up your retirement investments

Dear Liz: With all the investment options offered in 401(k) plans, how as a contributor do I know where to place my money?

Answer: Too many investment options can confuse contributors and lower participation rates, according to a study by social psychologist Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University in cooperation with the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research. The more options, the more likely participants are to simply divide their money evenly among the choices, according to another study published in the Journal of Marketing Research. That’s a pretty random method of asset allocation and one that may not get people to their retirement goals.

As a participant, you want a low-cost, properly diversified portfolio of investments. For most people, that means a heavy weighting toward stock funds, including at least a dab of international stocks. Your human resources department or the investment company running the plan may be able to help with asset allocation.

Some plans offer free access to sophisticated software from Financial Engines or Morningstar that can help you pick among your available options. Once you have your target asset allocation, you’ll need to rebalance your portfolio, or return it to its original allocation, at least once a year. A good year for stocks could mean your portfolio is too heavily weighted with them, while a bad year means you need to stock up.

If that feels like too much work, you may have simpler options. Many plans provide a balanced fund, typically invested 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds, that provides automatic reallocation. The same is true for target-date funds, which are an increasingly popular choice. Pick the one with the date closest to your expected retirement year. If you’re 35, for example, you might opt for the Retirement 2045 fund.

It’s important, though, that you minimize costs because funds with high fees can leave you with significantly less money at retirement. The average target-date fund charged 0.73% last year. If you’re paying much more than that, and have access in your plan to lower-cost stock and bond funds, choose those instead.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: What you can learn from your 2015 tax returns. Also in the news: Getting the most from mobile banking, using the 50/20/30 rule for your budget, and the number one thing Americans plan to do with their tax refunds.

What You Can Learn From Your 2015 Tax Return
Revealing info on your investments.

Mobile Check Deposits: Pro Tips to Ensure They Go Smoothly
Getting the most from a convenient way of banking.

This Is the No. 1 Thing Americans Do With Their Tax Refund
The answer may surprise you.

Use the 50/20/30 Rule to Outline Your Budget For Every Need
Proportioning your expenses.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Steps you should take when you’re 20 years away from retirement. Also in the news: Collecting on a business debt, how to improve your budget, and how to give your investment portfolio a stress test.

8 Steps to Take When You’re 20 Years From Retirement
Time is critical.

Can a Debt Collector Come After Me for a Business Debt?
Assessing your personal risk.

Improve Your Budget By Focusing On How Much Satisfaction Your Money Buys
How much fulfillment will your purchase bring you?

Give Your Investment Portfolio a Stress Test
Hypothetical scenarios can display your portfolio’s strengths and weaknesses.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

halloween-moneyToday’s top story: Understanding your free credit scores. Also in the news: What spooks us most about money, overcoming our 401(k) fears, and why it’s more about what you keep, instead of what you make.

How to Make Sense of Your Free Credit Scores
Deciphering the information.

What Spooks Us Most About Money
Getting over the goosebumps.

5 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of a 401(k)
No need to fear the future.

It’s Not What You Make, It’s What You Keep
The total return on investments.