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.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why playing the market right now is an especially bad idea. Also in the news: Is student loan discharge in bankruptcy within reach, the difference between being preapproved and prequalified for a credit card, and how your credit score is determined.

Playing the Market Is a Bad Idea, Especially Now
Brokerages have reported a surge in day trading, but the vast majority would be better off in low-cost funds.

Is Student Loan Discharge in Bankruptcy Now Within Reach?
Recent court rulings and lawmakers’ support to expand relief could help borrowers meet the stringent standards.

What’s the difference between being preapproved and prequalified for a credit card?
An unsolicited approval from a credit card issuer can be a red flag—they could be trying to sell you on a card you don’t need or want

How Your Credit Score Is Determined
Unraveling the mystery.

Playing the market is a bad idea, especially now

The current day trading boom will end as these frenzies always do: in tears. While we wait for the inevitable crash, let’s review not only why day traders are doomed but also why most people shouldn’t trade, or even invest in, individual stocks.

Day trading basically means rapidly buying and selling investments, hoping to profit from small price fluctuations. Brokerages have reported a surge in trading and new accounts this year, starting with March’s stock market crash when investors rushed in looking for bargains. As pandemic lockdowns kept people from their jobs and classrooms, trading continued to soar, especially among young adults. In my latest for the Associated Press, why playing the market, especially now, is a bad idea.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: New ways to get more for your old car. Also in the news: How the pros ride market volatility – and why you shouldn’t, if your travel plans are up in the air should you cancel your rewards card, and how the new eviction ban may impact you.

New Ways to Get More for Your Old Car
Online buyers make offers in minutes — a safety net for car shoppers wondering what their trade-in is really worth.

How the Pros Ride Market Volatility — and Why You Shouldn’t
Professionals try to harness the spikes and slumps, but most investors should stick with diversification.

If your travel plans are up in the air should you cancel your rewards card?
Not so fast.

How the new eviction ban may impact you
A new reprieve.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: A bargain hunter’s guide to used car shopping. Also in the news: Unlock savings with these little-known credit card benefits, finding the outperformers in the stock market, and 7 hacks you need to survive tax season.

A Bargain Hunter’s Guide to Used Car Shopping
The key to success is knowing where to look.

Unlock Savings With These Little-Known Credit Card Benefits
You could have purchase protection.

Looking for Recession-Proof Stocks? Find the Outperformers
Some are tried and true.

7 hacks you need to survive tax season
These tips will help get you through in one piece.

Q&A: Volatile markets and retirement

Dear Liz: With the tumult in the stock market, I’ve been thinking of a strategy which may be safe but not prudent. I have about $315,000 in a trust account which pays me about $9,000 a year in dividends. I’m 81. If I sell all the stocks in my trust account, I could draw the same $9,000 for over 10 years, not counting about 2% growth on the $315,000. What are your thoughts?

Answer: Many people have discovered they’re not as risk tolerant as they thought they were. The volatile stock market has unnerved even seasoned retirement investors. Most, however, should continue investing because they won’t need the money for decades, and even retirees typically need the kinds of returns that only stocks can deliver long term.

There’s no reason to take more risk than necessary, however. If all you need from your trust account is $9,000 a year, you’d be unlikely to run out even if your money is sitting in cash. But you may need more than $9,000 in the future — to adjust for inflation, for example, or to cover long-term care costs.

One option to consider is a single-premium immediate annuity. In exchange for a lump sum, you’d get a guaranteed stream of monthly checks for the rest of your life. At your age, you could get $9,000 a year by investing about $100,000 in such an annuity. Because your payments would be guaranteed by the annuity, you might be more comfortable leaving at least some of the rest of your account in stocks for potential growth.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to protect your finances and credit in tough times. Also in the news: Squash these 4 common tax-season stresses, how to weather a market downturn during or approaching retirement, and how to handle – and head off – a tax bill.

How to Protect Your Finances and Credit in Tough Times
Prepare instead of panic.

Squash These 4 Common Tax-Season Stresses
How to overcome the 4 biggest stresses.

Retired or Nearly There? How to Weather a Market Downturn
Diversification is key.

How to Handle — and Head Off — a Tax Bill
Preparing in advance.

Q&A: Worried about stocks? Why you shouldn’t try to time the market

Dear Liz: I’m a federal employee with a Thrift Savings Plan account. I’m 35 and have put about $125,000 into my TSP. However, I never changed it from the low-risk G fund so it’s not gaining as much interest as it should. Should I wait for the market to tank before moving it around or is it OK to move it now due to my age and amount of time I have before retirement? I’m worried I’ll move it and I’ll lose the value in a downturn, so maybe I should wait for a downturn to act.

Answer: You sent this question a few weeks ago, before the recent correction. Did you use the downturn as an excuse to hop into the market? Or did you stay on the sidelines, worried it might drop further?

Many people in your situation get cold feet. You’re better off in the long run just diving in and not trying to time the market.

Waiting for a downturn sounds good in theory, but in reality there’s no sure way to call the bottom of any stock market decline. And when the stock market recovers, it tends to do so in a hurry. If you delay too long, you risk missing much of the upside.

It won’t feel good if the market plunges a day, a week or a year after you invest your money, but remember that you’re investing for the long term. The day-to-day or even year-to-year gyrations of the stock market don’t matter. What matters is the trend over the next 30 years — and long term, stocks outperform every other asset class.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: When the market drops, play the long game with retirement savings. Also in the news: Is booking a last-minute spring break flight with miles a good idea, a credit union’s new card goes all-in with 3X points, and how to get a credit card when you’re already in debt.

When the Market Drops, Play the Long Game With Retirement Savings
Don’t panic.

Ask a Points Nerd: Should I Book Last-Minute Spring Break Flights With Miles?
The Points Nerd weighs in.

Credit Union’s New Card Goes All-In With 3X Points
A Florida credit union is about to get popular.

How to Get a Credit Card When You’re Already in Debt
When you need a little wiggle room.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Can your employer cure your money woes? Also in the news: 10 lessons from the bull market’s 10-year anniversary, how to get money if you don’t have an emergency fund, and the $1.4 billion in refunds left on the table by taxpayers.

Can Your Employer Cure Your Money Woes?
Targeting debt-related stress through employee benefits.

10 Lessons From the Bull Market’s 10-Year Anniversary
It’s the longest bull market in history.

How to Get Money If You Don’t Have an Emergency Fund
But you really should have an emergency fund.

Taxpayers are leaving $1.4 billion in tax refunds on the table
Refunds owed from 2015.