Here’s how to prepare for market volatility, by age

Personal Finance


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As the trade war between the world’s largest economies rages on, your savings are likely taking a hit.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 750 points on Monday, while the S&P 500 dropped nearly 3%.

Amid troubles in the market, the most common advice is to do nothing. However, it can be helpful to turn your attention to your own financial goals and timeline.

“If you have 40 years left to invest, a bear market right now is just noise and should be ignored — in fact, often celebrated,” said Doug Bellfy, a certified financial planner at Synergy Financial Planning in South Glastonbury, Connecticut.

On the other hand, Bellfy said, “a stock market crash that starts the day after you retire can cause a permanent lifestyle impact if all your money is invested there.”

Here’s what the ups and downs of the market mean for you, depending on your age.

20s-30s:

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If you’re a young investor, your rate of return typically matters less than your savings rate, said James Sweeney, a CFP and founder of Switchpoint Financial Planning in Lehi, Utah.

He provided an example: If you’re 30 with $20,000 invested, whether you earn a 10% or a 5% return will only result in a difference of around $1,000.

But, Sweeney said, “if I can save aggressively, and put an extra $5,000 toward retirement, that has a much bigger effect on my portfolio value.”

People in their 20s and 30s who are investing for retirement really are best off doing nothing as the market rages, said Alex Doll, a CFP and president of Anfield Wealth Management in Cleveland. When you put money into your 401(k) during a downturn, you’re actually taking advantage of a low-cost environment.

However, you don’t want the money you need for near-term expenses in the stock market, because it has a greater chance of losing value, said Nicholas Scheibner, a CFP at Baron Financial Group in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

Keep the savings for, say, a home purchase within the year, in cash or CDs.

40s-50s:

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The biggest mistake middle-aged investors can make is to sell at the bottom of a bear market, Sweeney said. “Most people still have 10 or more years until they retire, which is typically more than enough time to ride out a bear market,” he said.

A bear market is said to have begun when a major index such as the S&P 500 drops more than 20%.

After the 2008 downturn, when the S&P 500 plunged 56%, investment portfolios took between one and three years to recover (for asset allocations ranging from half stocks and half bonds, to 100% stocks), according to Vanguard.

Do make sure you have enough cash reserves built up to cover your upcoming expenses, including school tuition and planned vacations, said Milo Benningfield, a CFP and founding principal of Benningfield Financial Advisors in San Francisco.

“If not, consider raising cash from your portfolio now, rather than later after markets have fallen,” he said.

60s-70s:

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As the stock market swings up and down, older investors should avoid complacency and tweak their portfolio to make sure they’re ready to exit the workforce, Bellfy said.

“I find that investors that are getting close to retirement do sometimes need to be coaxed to reduce risk and build cash reserves,” he said.

How much should you have in cash? At least two years’ worth of living expenses, according to Bellfy. “But more can be better if one has the ability to save up more,” he said.

That way if the bear market hits just before you retire, you won’t need to dig into your portfolio at reduced prices.

“Avoid the temptation to cash out your investments completely,” Benningfield said. “You may have another two to four decades of spending to cover.”

If you’re already in retirement:

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