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.

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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.

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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.

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Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 10 lessons from the Bull Market’s 10-year anniversary. Also in the news: Money mistakes even smart people make, 3 things that change when you’re a homeowner, and why you should check your credit report even if your credit is frozen.

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Q&A: Fear of a market meltdown has frozen this retiree’s money decisions

Dear Liz: I sold my home two years ago and still have not done anything with my gain of $200,000. It’s in a one-year certificate of deposit so at least it’s earning something while I try to figure out what to do with it. I’m 66, retired and have an IRA of $500,000 that’s invested in the market. I get $1,450 from that plus a monthly Social Security check of $1,750.

I know that my hesitation has to do with the crash of 2008. I know that things have recovered nicely but I just don’t want to feel like I did then, watching my money disappear. I don’t know if I’m the only older person who has this fear of riding it out again.

Answer: Few who watched their portfolios plunge in 2008-09 look forward to experiencing that again. But risk is inextricably tied to reward. If you want the reward of inflation-beating returns that stocks offer, you must accept the risk that your portfolio can go down as well as up.

And you probably do want that reward for a big chunk of your investments. Retirees typically need about half of their portfolio in stocks to generate the kinds of returns that will preserve their buying power and help insulate them against running short of money.

That doesn’t mean all your money has to be at risk. You still need to have a good stash of savings sitting in safe, liquid accounts to help you ride out any market downturns or emergencies. Financial planners often recommend that their retired clients keep six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund, and some like to see 12 months’ worth. Beyond that, though, your money probably should be working for you, not simply dwindling away to taxes and inflation.

If you find yourself unable to move forward with a plan for this money, consider hiring a fee-only financial planner who can help you review your options.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to keep investing when the stock market trembles. Also in the news: What to buy (and skip) on Black Friday, financial companies are hiding complaints, and how age affects your credit score.

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Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to put your money where your politics are. Also in the news: What not to buy until Black Friday, a stock market outlook for fall, and you can now file your FAFSA from your phone.

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Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Plug into your car’s computer to save money and drive safer. Also in the news: How to reset retirement plans to weather a downturn, the easiest way to earn 6,000 Rapid Rewards point, and why you should pay off all of your debt before investing in stocks.

Plug Into Your Car’s Computer toonboardney, Drive Safer
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