Q&A: Here’s why trying to time the stock market is a really bad idea

Dear Liz: I confess that I am one of those people who panicked and sold a portion of my portfolio in March, against the advice of many who said, “Hold, don’t fold.” Thus, when the market bounced back, I was left standing out in the cold.

I am filled with a tremendous sense of stupidity. I have no idea what I should do with the cash, which remains in a money market account.

Do I wait for a 5% or 10% market correction to reenter the market? Do I leave the money in a money market account, where it earns 0.01% interest, and wait for interest rates to rise?

Answer: You tried to time the market once, with painful results. Why would you want to make the same mistake again?

That’s what you’re doing when you wait for a correction to enter the market. Many people think they’ll have the discipline to do this, but the reality can be quite different.

Once the market drops 5% to 10%, what’s to keep it from dropping further? Would you be able to jump in as others are bailing out? And what if the correction is manageably small but happens after the market has climbed considerably? You would still have missed out on a substantial amount of growth.

You may have panicked because you were taking too much risk with your portfolio. Perhaps you were trying for maximum returns or the proportion devoted to stocks had increased during the previous bull market.

The solution is to craft an asset allocation that reflects your goals and risk tolerance. Then you regularly rebalance back to that asset allocation.

Having such a plan can help you resist the urge to cash out in a downturn. So too can having an advisor who can help you craft a plan and talk you down when anxiety has you climbing the walls.

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