There are several actions you can take now that will help secure your financial future regardless of how the next presidency plays out. (ISTOCKPHOTO)
By Masood Vojdani:
Investing hard-earned money can cause investors' emotions to run high, often creating a wall of worry that can actually hinder rather than help their financial security. In the months leading up to this presidential election, many investors were tempted to allow their worries surrounding the race to cloud their judgment and push them into decisions or actions that didn't fit with their long-term financial plan, such as selling off stocks or stockpiling cash.
On the night of Nov. 8, when it became clear that Donald Trump was the surprise winner, Dow futures plunged more than 800 points. Sell-off participants were quick to say "I told you so," but in fact the market's reaction to the election results swiftly reversed. The next morning and days following, the stock market surged, and investors who had dumped their stocks in the weeks, months, or even during overnight hours on election night were unable to benefit from the rally.
The presidential election in the U.S. and the "Brexit" vote in the U.K. are stark reminders that despite what political surprises lurk, investors must remember not to let short-term market events impact their long-term financial thinking. In the end, staying the course and focusing on quality investments is the best protection from the unexpected. While you might already be planning for the many decisions the new administration will make in the coming months from trade agreements to health care, there are several actions you can take now that will help secure your financial future regardless of how the next presidency plays out.
Evaluate your investment strategy with fresh eyes. Take the time to ensure your portfolio aligns with your risk tolerance and financial goals. This should be a regular exercise to confirm your desired and actual risk remain in balance, and that you and your financial adviser are on the same page. The level of risk you want in your portfolio will likely shift as you get older, as young investors tend to begin with a somewhat aggressive asset allocation and gradually transition to a more conservative mix as they approach their retirement years.
Assess your retirement savings and consider tax diversification. If you have already been contributing money to a retirement plan each month, see if you can increase the percentage of each paycheck that is put toward your nest egg. If you aren't already contributing to a retirement plan, start now. Discuss your plan with your employer and decide on a certain amount to set aside each month. If your company offers an employer match, make sure to contribute enough to receive the maximum match. For individuals who don't have an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, there are other suitable retirement savings options such as an individual retirement account. Regardless of which plan you use, make sure you're aware of its tax implications. A 401(k) and IRA are tax-deferred, but Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax dollars so account withdrawals do not incur a tax penalty. You may want to consider contributing to more than one account and diversifying your tax treatments, which could help prepare you for emergencies or other unexpected events.
Give your emergency fund some extra padding. If the election was a shock to you, a helpful reaction is to build up your emergency fund. Ideally, you should have three months of your salary set aside at a minimum, but it's always a good idea to have more in order to prepare you for possible events like job loss or changes to health care plans.
Focus on your own financial situation before helping others. In uncertain times, it is more important than ever to get your own finances in order before helping other loved ones. As they say before takeoff, "secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others." It can appear essential to focus efforts on saving for a child's college tuition or providing financial support to elderly parents, particularly for members of the sandwich generation. However, make sure you are well-positioned for retirement and pay off any student loans or consumer debt before offering financial aid to family or friends.
In a world where much is unclear, one thing is certain: investors who remain focused on their long-term investment strategy in spite of rattling short-term market events will be rewarded for their patience.