Torie, like millions of other people, knows that she needs to make money investing in 401k plans in 2015-2106 and beyond (she has a couple) in order to retire comfortably. What she also needs to know: 401k asset allocation, how to pick and manage her best 401k investment options, and the outlook for 2015 and 2016. Let's take a look at how she and you can make money in 2015, 2016 and beyond (or at least make the best of it) if you're in the same boat.
Although it's been easy to make money investing in 401k plans in recent years, this is not always the case. The first thing Torie and you need to do is to set a goal (Torie's is to retire in about the year 2040). Second, be honest about your personal risk tolerance. Torie's is "moderate" – but definitely not aggressive! Third, review your present 401k asset allocation to determine whether the investment options you hold are in line with your risk tolerance. Are you in the best 401k investment options, and in the right proportion?
Finally, you need to understand that 2015 and 2016 could be a difficult time to make money investing in 401k plans. The reason: weak economic forecasts make yesteryear's best 401k investment options vulnerable to losses. Stocks are pricey and so are bonds. Assuming your risk profile is similar to Torie's (she would like to make money but wants to avoid heavy losses) what can you do now to stay on track, make money, and avoid heavy losses if 2015 and beyond turns ugly? We'll use Torie as our example.
A number of years ago Torie decided that she wanted to make money investing in 401k plans, but wanted to keep things simple. She had changed jobs once and was planning on another change in the future. With both employers she had set her plan up with 50% going to a safe stable account and 50% to a Target 2040 fund. She was busy and pretty much ignored her statements over the years. After all, her goal was to make money investing, and she could see at a glance that her portfolio balance was growing. Now, she needs to take a closer look at her 401k asset allocation to see what percent is invested in each of her two 401k investment options.
In early 2015, a closer look revealed that both plans had a portfolio asset allocation far riskier than she had expected. The target fund represented almost 80% of her assets in her first plan and 75% in her current plan. What happened, and what action should she take to get back on track and still keep things simple? What happened was that her target 2040 funds turned out to be one of the best 401k investment options in her plans and they far outperformed her safe stable accounts.
The other best 401k investment options had been stock funds, but Torie considered them to be too risky. With the target fund most of her money was actually invested in stock funds, with the rest in bond funds; and both fund types had performed well heading into 2015. Her plan was to continue to make money investing in her 401k by holding her target fund and a safe investment. That way she was invested in stocks and some bonds as well to give here her portfolio some balance.
What she now needs to do is to REBALANCE her 401k asset allocation so that 50% of her portfolio assets are again equally invested in each of her two chosen investment options. That cuts her risk considerably and it fits her comfort level. Now, can you or Torie make money investing in 401k plans in 2015-2016 with a 401k asset allocation that is allocated half to safe investment options (money market funds or stable accounts) and half to stock funds or target funds? Yes, unless the stock market falls and bonds also take a hit.
How can you make money investing in 401k plans in 2015 and beyond if both stocks and bonds get hit hard? You would need to move the vast majority of your money to the safe havens available. In other words, your best 401k investment options would be the stable account that pays interest (if one is available) or the money market fund (which your plan should have, but currently pays very little in dividends). For the average investor who needs long term growth (like you and Torie) this is an extreme measure.
Remember, your real objective is to make money investing in 401k plans, so you can have a secure retirement. Moderate risk is part of the program. I use Torie as an example because her situation is typical. Her 401k asset allocation fits her (and likely your) risk tolerance and should produce growth over the long term. She has chosen the best 401k investment options to reach her goal of retirement in 2040 (if you plan to retire in 2030 go with the 2030 target fund, and so on). Half of her money is safe and the other half has growth potential.
Plus, she has a plan to manage her 401k investment options. If the markets get ugly in 2015 and 2016 she will not make money investing in 401k plans, she will lose money. But she has money going into her target fund every pay period buying shares at cheaper and cheaper prices, and money going into and accumulating in her safe investment. Anytime her 401k asset allocation shows that 60% or more is in the safe account she will REBALANCE back to 50%, which means taking money from the safe account and adding it to the target fund. Then, when the markets turn, she's well positioned to make money investing in 401k plans for a secure future.