How to build your 401k plan

How to build your 401k plan

401k plans are a powerful savings tool for retirement

With total assets reaching $4.8 trillion dollars 401k plans are the most popular retirement vehicle and are increasingly used by employers to recruit and retain key talent.  401k accounts allow employees to build their retirement savings by investing a portion of their salary. Contributions to the plan are tax-deductible, thus reducing your taxable income,  and the money allocated grows tax-free. Taxes are due upon withdrawal of funds during retirement years. In this article, I will discuss how to build your 401k plan.

Does your employer offer a 401k plan?

If you recently joined a new company, find out whether they offer a 401k plan. Some employers offer automatic enrollment, and others require individual registration.

Many companies offer a matching contribution up to a set dollar amount or percentage.

Contributions are usually deducted from each paycheck, but employees can also opt to contribute a lump sum.  The 2016 limit is $18,000 plus a $6,000 “catch-up” contribution for people age 50 and above.

How to decide on your investment choices

Employers must provide ongoing education and training materials about retirement savings plans.

401k plans can offer anywhere between 5 and 20 different mutual funds which invest in various asset classes and strategies.  Your choice will be limited to the funds in your plan. Hence you can not invest in stocks or other financial instruments.

The fundamental goal is to build a diversified and disciplined portfolio with your investment choices. Markets will go up and down, but your diversified portfolio will moderate your risk in times of market turmoil.

Index Funds

Index Funds are passively managed mutual funds. They track a particular index by mirroring its performance. The index funds hold the same proportion of underlying stocks as the index they follow. Many indexes are tracking large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap, international and bond indices. One of the most popular categories is the S&P 500 Index funds.

Due to their passive nature index funds are usually offered at a lower cost compared to actively managed funds. They provide broad diversification with low portfolio turnover. Index funds do not actively trade in and out of their positions and only replace stocks when their benchmark changes. Index funds are easy to buy, sell and rebalance.

Actively Managed Mutual Funds

Actively managed mutual funds are the complete opposite of index funds. A management team usually runs each fund. The mutual funds have a designated benchmark, such as the S & P 500, Russell 2000,  and MSI World. Often the management team aims to beat the benchmark either by a greater absolute or risk-adjusted return. Overall active funds trade more often than index funds. Their portfolio turnover (frequency of trading) is bigger because managers take an active approach and invest in companies or bonds with the goal of beating their benchmark.

There is a broad range of funds with different strategies and asset classes. Some funds trade more actively than others. Even funds that follow the same benchmark can gravitate towards a particular sector, country or niche. For instance, a total bond fund might be more concentrated into government bonds, while another fund may invest heavily in corporate bonds.

Active funds charge higher fees than comparable index funds. These fees cover salaries, management, administrative, research, marketing, and trading costs. Funds investing in niche markets like small-cap and emerging market will have higher costs. Fees are also dependent on the size of the fund and its turnover strategy.

It’s critical to do at least a basic research before you decide which fund to purchase. Morningstar.com is a great website for mutual fund information and stats.

Target Retirement funds

These are mutual funds that invest your retirement assets according to a target allocation based on your expected year of retirement. The further away you are from retirement, the more your target fund asset allocation will lean toward equity investments. As you get closer to retirement, the portion of equity will go down and will be replaced by fixed income investments. The reason behind target retirement funds is to maintain a disciplined investment approach over time without being impacted by market trends.

One significant drawback of the retirement funds is that they assume your risk tolerance is based on your age. If you are a risk taker or risk averse, these funds may not represent your actual financial goals and willingness to take the risk.

In addition to that, investors also need to consider how target retirement funds fit within their overall investment portfolio in both taxable and tax-advantaged accounts.

Most large fund managers offer target retirement funds. However, there are some large differences between fund families. Some of the discrepancies come from the choice of active versus passive investment strategies and fees.

Without endorsing any of the two providers below I will illustrate some of the fundamental differences between Vanguard and T. Rowe Price Target Retirement funds.

Vanguard Target Retirement funds

Vanguard Target Retirement funds offer low-cost retirement fund at an expense ratio of 0.15%. All funds allocate holdings into five passively managed broadly diversified Vanguard index fund.

Vanguard Target Retirement2015202520352045
Total Stock Market Index28.4439.8648.7554.07
Total Intl Stock Index19.0126.5632.4535.9
Total Bond Market II Index30.3223.6613.237.05
Total Intl Bond Index13.379.925.572.98
Short-Term Infl-Protected Sec Index8.86
% Assets100.00100.00100.00100.00
By asset class
Equity47.4566.4281.289.97
Fixed Income52.5533.5818.810.03

T. Rowe Target Retirement funds

On the other spectrum are T. Rowe retirement funds. Their funds have a higher expense ratio. They charge between 0.65% and 0.75%. All target funds invest in active T. Rowe mutual funds in 18 different categories. T. Rowe target funds are a bit more aggressive. They have a higher allocation to equity and offer a wider range of investment strategies.

T. Rowe Target Retirement Fund2015202520352045
New Income24.3817.3410.646.74
Equity Index 50022.1514.859.317.41
Ltd Dur Infl Focus Bd11.013.530.540.53
International Gr & Inc5.046.687.858.35
Overseas Stock5.016.647.828.3
International Stock4.425.786.87.26
Emerging Markets Bond3.552.471.431.01
Growth Stock3.4311.7417.8420.26
International Bond3.422.441.510.98
High Yield3.262.321.420.91
Value3.111.3117.3619.75
Emerging Markets Stock2.883.874.494.71
Real Assets2.12.783.283.5
Mid-Cap Value1.852.462.953.12
Mid-Cap Growth1.782.352.732.9
Small-Cap Value0.931.231.481.55
Small-Cap Stock0.881.151.411.53
New Horizons0.720.941.11.12
% Assets100100100100
By Asset Class
Equity54.2971.7884.4289.76
Fixed Income45.6228.115.5410.17

Which approach is better? There is no distinctive winner. It depends on your risk tolerance.

Vanguard funds have lower expense ratio and a lower 10-year return. However, they have a lower risk.

T. Rowe funds have higher absolute and risk-adjusted return but also carry more risk.

10-year Performance Analysis, 2045 Target Retirement Fund

 Standard10-yearSharpe
FundNameDeviationReturn Ratio
VTIVXVanguard Target 204514.655.480.36
TRRKXT. Rowe Target 204515.825.890.38

 *** Data provided by Morningstar

Most 401k plans will offer only one family of target funds, so you don’t have to decide between Vanguard, T. Rowe or another manager. You will have to decide whether to invest in any of them at all or put your money in the index or active funds. For further information, check out our dedicated article on target date funds

ETFs

ETFs are a great alternative to index and active mutual funds. They are liquid and actively trade on the exchange throughout the day.

As of now, very few plans offer ETFs. One of the main concerns for adding them to retirement plans is the timeliness of trade execution. Right now this problem is shifted to the fund managers who only issue end of day price once all trades are complete.

I expect that ETFs will become a more common choice as they grow in popularity and liquidity. Many small and mid-size companies that look for low-cost solutions can use them for them as an alternative to their for their workplace retirement plans.

Company stock

Many companies offer their stock as a matching contribution or profit sharing incentive in their employee 401k plan. Doing so aligns employees’ objectives with the company’s success.  While this may have positive intentions, current or former employees run the risk of having a large concentrated position in their portfolios.  Even if your company has a record of high returns, holding significant amounts of company stock creates substantial financial risk during periods of crisis because one is both employee and shareholder.  Enron and Lehman Brothers are great examples of this danger.  Being overinvested in your company shares can lead to simultaneous unemployment and depletion of retirement savings if the business fails.

Allocation mix

You will most likely have a choice between a family of target retirement funds and a group of large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap, international developed, emerging markets stocks, a REIT, US government, corporate, high yield and international bond funds.

Your final selection should reflect your risk tolerance and financial goals. You should consider your age, family size, years to retirement, risk sensitivity, total wealth, saving and spending habits, significant future spending and so on.

You can use the table below as a high-level guidance.

401k asset allocation mix

Data source: Ibbotson Associates, 2016, (1926-2015). Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Returns include the reinvestment of dividends and other earnings. This chart is for illustrative purposes only. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. For information on the indexes used to construct this table, see footnote 1. The purpose of the target asset mixes is to show how target asset mixes may be created with different risk and return characteristics to help meet an investor’s goals. You should choose your investments based on your particular objectives and situation. Be sure to review your decisions periodically to make sure they are still consistent with your goals.
Source: https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/retirement/ira-portfolio?ccsource=email_monthly

Final recommendations

Here are some finals ideas how to make the best out of your 401k savings:

  • At a minimum, you should set aside enough money in your 401k plan to take advantage of your employer’s matching contribution. It’s free money after all. However, the vesting usually comes with certain conditions. So definitely pay attention to these rules. They can be tricky.
  • 2016 maximum contribution to 401k is $18,000 plus $6,000 for individuals over 50. If you can afford to set aside this amount, you will maximize the full potential of retirement savings.
  • If your 401k plan is your only retirement saving, you need to have a broad diversification of your assets. Invest in a target retirement fund or mix of individual mutual funds to avoid concentration of your investments in one asset class or security.
  • If your 401k plan is one of many retirement saving options – taxable account, real estate, saving accounts, annuity, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, Rollover IRA or a prior employer’s 401k plan, you will need to have a holistic view of your assets in order to achieve a comprehensive and tax optimized asset allocation.
  • Beware of hidden trading costs in your plan choices. Most no-load mutual funds will charge anywhere between 0.15% and 1.5% to manage your money. This fee will cover their management, administrative, research and trading costs. Some funds also charge upfront and backload fees. As you invest in those funds your purchase cost will be higher compared to no-load funds.
  • If you hold large concentrated positions of your current or former employer’s stock, you need to mitigate your risk by diversifying the remainder of your portfolio.

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit our Insights page where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized wealth management and financial planning services to individuals and families.  To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here. Additionally, we offer Outsourced Chief Investment Officer services to professional advisors (RIAs), family offices, endowments, defined benefit plans, and other institutional clients. To find out more visit our OCIO page here.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,

A beginner’s guide to retirement planning

uide to retirement planning

Many professionals feel overwhelmed by the prospect of managing their finances. Often, this results in avoidance and procrastination– it is easy to prioritize career or family obligations over money management.  Doing so puts off decision making until retirement looms.  While it is never too late to start saving for retirement,  the earlier you start, the more time your retirement assets have to grow.  There are several things you can do to start maximizing your retirement benefits.  In this posting, I will present my beginner’s guide to retirement planning.

Start Early 

It is critical to start saving early for retirement. An early start will lay the foundation for a healthy savings growth.

With 7% average annual stock return, $100,000 invested today can turn into almost $1.5m in 40 years. The power of compounding allows your investments to grow over time.

The table below shows you how the initial saving of $100,000 increases over 40 years:

Year 0       100,000
Year 10       196,715
Year 20       386,968
Year 30       761,226
Year 40    1,497,446

Not all of us have $100k to put away now. However, every little bit counts. Building a disciplined long-term approach towards saving and investing is the first and most essential requirement for stable retirement.

Know your tax rate

Knowing your tax bracket is crucial to setting your financial goals. Your tax rate is based on your gross annual income subtracted by allowable deductions (ex: primary residence mortgage deductions, charitable donations, and more).

See below table for 2016 tax brackets.

Guide to retirement planning

 

Jumping from a lower to a higher tax bracket while certainly helpful for your budget will increase your tax liabilities to IRS.

Why is important?  Understanding your tax bracket will help you optimize your savings for retirement.

Knowing your tax bracket will help you make better financial decisions in the future. Income tax brackets impact many aspects of retirement planning including choice of an investment plan, asset allocation mix, risk tolerance, tax level on capital gains and dividends.

As you can see in the above table, taxpayers in the 10% and 15% bracket (individuals making up to 37,650k and married couples filing jointly making up to $75,300) are exempt from paying taxes on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.

Example: You are single. Your total income is $35,000 per year. You sold a stock that generated $4,000 long-term capital gain. You don’t owe taxes for the first $2,650 of your gain and only pay 15% of the remaining balance of $1,350 or $202.5

Conversely, taxpayers in the 39.6% tax bracket will pay 20% on their long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. A long-term capital gain or qualified dividend of $4,000 will create $800 tax liability to IRS.

Tax bracket becomes even more important when it comes to short-term capital gains. If you buy and sell securities within the same year, you will owe taxes at your ordinary income tax rate according to the chart above.

Example: You make $100,000 a year. You just sold company shares and made a short-term capital gain of $2,000. In this case, your tax bracket is 28%, and you will owe $560 to IRS. On the other hand, if you waited a little longer and sold your shares after one year you will pay only $300 to IRS.

Know your  State and City Income Tax

If you live in the following nine states, you are exempt from paying state income tax:  Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Tennessee.

For those living in other states, the state income tax rates vary by state and income level.  I’ve listed state income tax rates for California and New York for comparison.

California income tax rates for 2016:

1% on the first $7,850 of taxable income.

2% on taxable income between $7,851 and $18,610.

4% on taxable income between $18,611 and $29,372.

6% on taxable income between $29,373 and $40,773.

8% on taxable income between $40,774 and $51,530.

9.3% on taxable income between $51,531 and $263,222.

10.3% on taxable income between $263,223 and 315,866.

11.3% on taxable income between $315,867 and $526,443.

12.3% on taxable income of $526,444 and above.

 

New York State tax rates for 2016:

4% on the first $8,400 of taxable income.

4.5% on taxable income between $8,401 and $11,600.

5.25% on taxable income between $11,601 and $13,750.

5.9% on taxable income between $13,751 and $21,150.

6.45% on taxable income between $21,151 and $79,600.

6.65% on taxable income between $79,601 and $212,500.

6.85% on taxable income between $212,501 and $1,062,650.

8.82% on taxable income of more than $1,062,651.

 

City Tax

Although New York state income tax rates are lower than California, those who live in NYC will pay an additional city tax. As of this writing, the cities that maintain city taxes include New York City, Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, Portland, OR, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. If you live in one of these cities, your paycheck will be lower as a result of this added tax.  The city tax rate varies from 1% and 3.65%.

Create an emergency fund

I recommend setting up an emergency fund that will cover six to 12 months of unexpected expenses. You can build your “rainy day” fund overtime by setting up automatic monthly withdrawals from your checking account. Unfortunately, in the current interest environment, most brick and mortar banks offer 0.1% to 0.2% interest on saving accounts.

Some of the other options to consider are saving account in FDIC-accredited online banks like Discover or Allied Bank, money market account, short term CD, short-term treasuries and municipal bonds.

Maximize your 401k contributions

Many companies now offer 401k plans to their employees as a means to boost employee satisfaction and retention rate. They also provide a matching contribution for up to a certain amount or percentage.

The 401k account contributions are tax deductible and thus decrease your taxable income.  Investments grow tax-free. Taxes are due during retirement when money is withdrawn from the account.

Hence, the 401k plan is an excellent platform to set aside money for retirement. The maximum employee contribution for 2016 is $18,000.  Your employer can potentially match up to $35,000 for a total joint contribution of $53,000. Companies usually match up to 3% to 5% of your salary.

401K withdrawals

Under certain circumstances, you can take a loan against your 401k or even withdraw the entire amount.  Plan participants may decide to take a loan to finance their first home purchase. You can use the funds as last resort income during economic hardship.

In general, I advise against liquidating your 401k unless all other financial options are exhausted.  If you withdraw money from your 401k, you will likely pay a penalty.  Even if you don’t pay a penalty, you miss out on potential growth through compounded returns.

Read the fine print

Most 401k plans will give you the option to rollover your investments to a tax-deferred IRA account once you leave your employer. You will probably have the opportunity to keep your investments in the current plan. While there are more good reasons to rollover your old 401k to IRA than keep it (a topic worth a separate article), knowing that you have options is half the battle.

Always read the fine print of your employer 401k package. The fact that your company promises to match up to a certain amount of money every year does not mean that the entire match is entirely vested to you.  The actual amount that you will take may depend on the number of years of service. For example, some employers will only allow their matching contribution to be fully vested after up to 5 years of service.   If you don’t know these details, ask your manager or call HR. It’s a good idea to understand your 401k vesting policy, particularly if you just joined or if you are planning to leave your employer.

In summary, having a 401k is a great way to save for retirement even if your employer doesn’t match or imposes restrictions on the matching contributions. Whatever amount you decide to invest, it is yours to keep. Your money will grow tax-free.

Maximize your Roth IRA

Often neglected, a Roth IRA is another great way to save money for retirement.  Roth IRA contributions are made after taxes. The main benefit is that investments inside the account grow tax-free. Therefore there are no taxes due after retirement withdrawals. The Roth IRA does not have any age restrictions, minimum contributions or withdrawal requirements.

The only catch is that you can only invest $5,500 each year and only if your modified adjusted gross income is under $117,000 for single and $184,000 for a couple filing jointly. If you make between $117,000 and $132,000 for an individual or $184,000 and $194,000 for a family filing jointly, the contribution to Roth IRA is possible at a reduced amount.

 

How to decide between Roth IRA and 401k

Ideally, you want to maximize contributions to both plans.

As a rule of thumb, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you retire then prioritizing Roth IRA contributions is a good move.  This allows you to pay taxes on retirement savings now (at your lower taxable income) rather than later.

If you expect to retire at a lower rate (make less money), then invest more in a 401k plan.

Nobody can predict with absolute certainty their income and tax bracket in 20 or 40 years.  Life sometimes takes unexpected turns. Therefore the safe approach is to utilize all saving channels. Having a diverse stream of retirement income will help achieve higher security, lower risk and balanced after tax income.

I suggest prioritizing retirement contributions in the following order:

  1. Contribute in your 401k up to the maximum matching contribution by your employer. The match is free money.
  2. Gradually build your emergency fund by setting up an automatic withdrawal plan
  3. Maximize Roth IRA contributions every year, $5,500
  4. Any additional money that you want to save can go into your 401k plan. You can contribute up to $ 18,000 annually plus $6,000 for individuals over 50.
  5. Invest all extra residual income in your saving and taxable investment account

 

About the author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions.  Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing.

A beginner’s guide to ETF Investing

Guide to ETFs

What is an ETF?

ETF stands for an exchange-traded fund. The fund is a passively managed marketable security that tracks an index, a commodity, or a pool of bonds. ETFs trade on the stock exchange, and their price fluctuate throughout the day.

By design, ETFs do not produce positive alpha. Alpha is the difference between the fund and the benchmark performance.  They strictly follow their index, and as a result, their alpha is always zero.

ETFs popularity spiked in the past several years due to the rise of robo-advisers, an increase in competiton, and lowe management fees. At the same time, many emblematic active managers underperformed their benchmarks and saw significant fund outflows.

ETF history

The ETF industry was born as a result of the market crash in October 1987. The initial goal behind ETFs was to provide liquidity and mitigate volatility for market participants. Over the last 20 years, they became a favorite investment vehicle for individual investors and asset managers. Today, globally, there are 6,870 ETF products on 60 exchanges and over $5 trillion of assets under management.

ETF vs. Mutual Fund

The media and investors often compare ETFs with mutual funds.  In contrast with ETFs, the mutual fund managers actively look for securities in an attempt to beat their designated benchmark.

ETFs typically have higher daily liquidity and lower fees than most mutual funds.  This makes them an attractive alternative for many individual investors.

Underlying Index

There are significant variations in the index composition between indices tracking the same asset class.  The ETFs structure and performance reflect these differences.

In the small-cap space, for example, IJR tracks the S&P 600 Small-Cap index, and IWM follows Russell 2000 Small Cap index. As the name suggests, the S&P index has 600 constituents, while the Russell index has 2,000 members. While there are many similarities and overlaps between the two, there are also significant variations in their returns, risk, and sector exposure.

In the Emerging market space, indices provided by MSCI include South Korea in their list of emerging market countries. At the same time, indices run by FTSE exclude South Korea and have it in their developed country list.

Investors seeking to manage their exposure to a particular asset class through ETFs need to consider the index differences and suitability against their overall portfolio.

 Fees

The fees are the cost associated with managing the fund – transaction cost, exchange fees, administrative, legal, and accounting expenses. They are subtracted from the fund performance. The costs are reported in the fund prospectus as an expense ratio. They can be as low as 0.08% and as high as 2% and more. The percentage represents the total amount of management fees over the value of assets under management.

Consider two ETFs that follow the same index.  All else equal, the ETF with the lower fee will always outperform the ETF with the higher one.

Liquidity

The ETF liquidity is critical in volatile markets and flash-sales when investors want to exit their position.

Asset under management, daily volume, and bid/ask spread drive the ETF liquidity. Larger funds offer better liquidity and lower spread.

The liquidity and the spread will impact the cost to buy or sell the fund. The spread will determine the premium you will pay to purchase these funds on the stock exchange. The discount is what you will need to give up to sell the ETFs. The lower the spread, the smaller difference between purchase and sale price will be. Funds with less spread will have lower exit costs.

Exchange Traded Notes

Exchange Traded Notes are an offshoot of the ETFs products. ETNs are structured debt instruments that promise to pay the return on the tracking assets. This structure is very popular for Oil, Commodity, and Volatility trading. They offer flexibility and easy access for investors to trade in and out of the products.

I believe that long-term investors should avoid Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs), volatility (VIX) ETFs, inverse, and leveraged (2x and 3x Index) ETFs and ETNs products. While increasing in popularity and liquidity, they are not appropriate for long-term investing and retirement planning. These types of funds are more suitable for daily and short-term trading. They incur a higher cost and have a higher risk profile.

Smart Beta ETFs

Smart Beta ETFs are also increasing in popularity. While the name was given for marketing purposes, this particular breed of ETFs uses a single or multi-factor approach to select securities from a pre-defined pool – S&P 500, Russell 2000, MSCI world index, or others.

The Single Factor ETFs like Low Volatility or High Dividend are strictly focusing on one particular characteristic. They offer a low-cost alternative to investing in a portfolio of income generating or less volatile stocks.

The multi-factor ETFs are a hybrid of active and index management. ETF providers have established an in-house index that will follow the rules of their multi-factor model. The model will select securities from an index following specific parameters with the intention of outperforming the index. The fund will buy only the securities provided by the model. The multi-factor ETFs are competing directly with mutual funds, which use similar techniques to select securities. However, they have a lower cost, better transparency, and an  easy entry point.

Currency Hedged

Currency Hedged International ETFs is another newcomer in the space. Their goal is to track a foreign equity index by neutralizing the currency exposure. They can be attractive to investors with interest in international markets who are concerned about their FX risk.  Some of the more popular funds in this category include HEDJ, which tracks Europe developed markets, and DXJ, which follows Japan exporting companies.

How to invest?

ETFs are a great alternative to all investment accounts. Due to their passive management, low turnover, and tax-advantaged structure, they are a great option for taxable and brokerage accounts.

For now, they have not made their way to corporate 401k plans, where mutual funds are still dominating. I am expecting this to change as more small and mid-size companies are looking for low-cost solutions for their workplace retirement plans.

Tax-sensitive investors, however, need to consider all circumstances before adding ETF holdings to their portfolio. Their tax treatment follows the tax treatment of their underlying assets.

6 Proven strategies for volatile markets

Proven strategies for volatile markets

What are some of the proven strategies for volatile markets? The truth is nobody likes to lose money. Especially money that is earmarked for retirement, vacation, real estate purchase, or college education. Today’s volatile markets can be treacherous for inexperienced (and even experienced) investors.  Successful investors must remain focused on the strength of their portfolio and the potential for future growth.

The stock market can be volatile.

The first instinct when the market drops is to sell your investments. Well, in reality, this may not always be the right move. Selling your stocks during market selloff may limit your losses, may lock in your gains but also may lead to missed long-term opportunities. Emotional decisions do not bring a rational outcome.

How low can the market go?  The largest-ever percentage drop by the S&P 500 index occurred on October 19, 1987 (known as The Black Monday) when the S&P 500 dropped by -20.47%. The next biggest sell-off happened on October 15, 2008, when the S&P 500 lost –9.03%. In both cases, the stock market continued to be volatile for several months before reaching a bottom. The bottom was the start of a new bull market. Both times, the stock market recovered to reach historic highs in a few years.  In the past seven years, the S&P 500 rose up by 14.8%, which is almost double the historical average of 7%.

So what can you do when the next market crash happens?

I want to share six strategies that can help you through the turbulence and support the long-term growth of your portfolio.

1. Keep calm and carry on

One of the most proven strategies for volatile markets is staying callm. Significant drops in stock value can trigger panic—and fear-based selling to limit losses is the wrong move.  Here’s why: frequently these market selloffs are followed by broad market rallies. As long as you are making sound investment choices, patience and the ability to tolerate paper losses will earn you more in the long run.

2. Be realistic: Don’t try to time the market

Many investors believe that they can time the market to buy low and sell high. In reality, very few investors succeed in these efforts.

According to a study by the CFA Institute Financial Analyst Journal, a buy-and-hold large-cap strategy would have outperformed, on average, about 80.7% of annual active timing strategies when the choice was between large-cap stocks, short-term T-bills and Treasury bonds.

3. Stay diversified

Diversification is essential for portfolio preservation and growth. Diversification, or spreading your investments among different asset categories (stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, precious metals, etc.) minimizes risk.

Uncorrelated asset classes react uniquely during turbulent markets and economic cycles.

For example, fixed income securities and gold tend to rise during bear markets when stocks fall. Conversely, equities rise during economic expansion.

4. Focus on your long-term goals

Personal financial goals stretch over several years. For investors in their 20s and 30s financial goals can go beyond 30 – 40 years. Staying disciplined—maintaining a high credit score, minimizing debt, and developing a savings plan–is the best way to achieve your goals.

Market crises come and go, but your goals will most likely remain the same. In fact, most goals have nothing to do with the market. Your investment portfolio is just one of the ways to achieve your goals.

5. Use tax-loss harvesting

If you own taxable accounts, you can take advantage of tax-loss harvesting opportunities. You can sell securities at depressed prices to offset other capital gains made in the same year. Also, you can carry up to $3,000 of capital losses to offset other income from salary and dividends. The remaining unused amount of capital loss can also be carried over for future years for up to the allowed annual limit.

To take advantage of this option you have to follow the wash sale rule. You cannot purchase the same security in the next 30 days. To stay invested in the market you can substitute the depressed stock with another stock that has a similar profile or buy an ETF.

6. Be opportunistic

Market swings create opportunities for purchasing securities at a discounted price.

Not surprisingly the renowned investor Warren Buffet‘s famous words are “Buy when everyone else is selling” and “When it’s raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble.”

Market selloffs rarely reflect the real long-term value of a company. Usually, selloffs are triggered by market news, political events, and most recently by algorithmic errors. Market drops during volatile times are an excellent opportunity for investors to buy their favorite stocks at a lower price.