5/8/2013 7:45 PM ET|
4 ways to keep investing simple
Diversification is a pillar of any sound investment strategy. But that laudatory goal isn't an excuse for a cluttered and unwieldy portfolio.
When it comes to your portfolio and investing practices, more isn't always better.
With well over 8,000 mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, as well as a variety of complicated trading strategies, from which to choose -- not to mention the 401ks, individual retirement accounts and other accounts a person can collect over a career -- simplifying a complicated portfolio can seem anything but, well, simple, says Jeff Corliss, a senior vice president at RDM Financial Group Inc. in Westport, Conn. But, he says, it's an important task.
Experts say streamlining helps investors get a handle on what assets they have and what they're paying to own them and can help eliminate redundancies, an important step in building a diversified portfolio.
"Some investors think they are diversified because they have money in 10 different places, only to find out there's a lot of overlap," says Scott Halliwell, a certified financial planner at USAA.
Of course, investors cleaning up a cluttered portfolio should be careful not to take it too far. Putting too much money into one investment or asset class in the name of simplification is never a good idea.
Here are four ways to simplify and streamline a portfolio and keep savings on track without sacrificing diversification:
With many people changing jobs more than 10 times before retirement, it is easy to rack up a long list of 401ks and other employer-based retirement accounts. It's also easy to lose track of assets when they are scattered far and wide, which can make planning difficult.
"People often have graveyards of old accounts at old employers, but you want to gain control of your assets so you have more investment flexibility," says David Fleisher, president of Firstrust Financial Resources, a wealth-management firm in Philadelphia. Plus, a forgotten account can cause problems when it comes time for retirees to take required minimum distributions -- the mandated yearly withdrawal from most retirement accounts typically starting at age 70½ -- which can lead to penalties, says Mr. Fleisher.
Two options are to roll balances from old plans into a current workplace plan, if it accepts them, or to consolidate your older accounts into IRAs. For a tax-free transaction, roll pretax moneys, such as assets in 401k plans, into a traditional IRA, and after-tax funds from an account like a Roth 401k into a Roth IRA, says Mr. Fleisher.
Once the assets are together in a single account, it's easier to allocate them consistent with an overall plan, he says.
You may also have taxable accounts at multiple companies that could be worth merging. One side benefit is that a larger balance can sometimes help get an investor better service at a securities firm by "making you a bigger fish in the pond," says USAA's Mr. Halliwell.
Use index funds
Many investors have heard the call to diversify and have responded by owning multiple funds of a particular type -- such as ones focused on large U.S. stocks. That can produce performance that doesn't vary much from that of a market benchmark, "but they're paying above-average fees to hold the whole thing together," says Christine Benz, director of personal finance at researcher Morningstar Inc. That approach also leads to a large number of funds when it's repeated in multiple areas of the financial markets.
Ask yourself: "Do you really need this complicated, overwrought portfolio, or can you get away with using some cheap index funds?" says Ms. Benz. A better option might be to hold a single broadly diversified index fund in each targeted area, combining them to get coverage across a variety of asset classes.
Such a move should lower your costs. The average expense ratio for actively managed mutual funds is 1.3% of assets annually, compared with 0.8% for index mutual funds and 0.5% for index exchange-traded funds, according to Morningstar.
Put investing on autopilot
While advisers caution against simply "setting and forgetting" investments, many acknowledge the benefits of easy, automatic strategies to keep savings on track.
Many investors already have a form of automatic investing through a workplace 401k plan, and kicking contribution levels up a notch is one of the simplest ways to boost savings. In the same vein, investors can set up automatic transfers from a checking account to an IRA or 529 college savings plan.
"Having the money withdrawn from your account before you lay your hands on it is a great way to instill discipline in your savings plan," Ms. Benz says. "If you don't see the money, you won't be tempted to spend it."
Investing the same amount at each interval -- known as dollar-cost averaging -- also results in buying less of an asset when the price is high and more when it's low.
Use all-in-one funds
In some cases, a single mutual fund or ETF can take the place of several in your portfolio. The classic example is target-date funds for retirement. They are typically pegged to an expected year of retirement, and the fund company automatically adjusts the mix of stocks, bonds and other assets to get more conservative as the investor nears retirement.
The funds are especially handy for accounts of $100,000 or less, says Mr. Fleisher. He adds, however, that investors still need to do their homework -- making sure they understand a fund's holdings, fees and the way it transitions into more conservative investments, typically called a "glide path."
Other all-in-one funds include those with a specific focus that gather together a variety of asset classes under one roof. For example, income-focused funds, like American Funds Capital Income Builder (CAIBX) and Franklin Income (FKINX), spread assets among holdings such as dividend-paying stocks, investment-grade bonds and high-yield bonds.
There also are funds that offer one-stop-shop exposure to a variety of strategies traditionally associated with hedge funds, including long-short equity or nontraditional bond strategies. One example is Natixis ASG Diversifying Strategies (DSFAX), which allocates to three alternative-investment strategies, including relative value (which seeks to take advantage of price differences between related financial instruments), managed futures and currency.
While the concept of multialternative funds is "solid," according to Morningstar analyst Mallory Horejs, she says the category is riddled with expensive funds with fairly short track records. As such, investors should be choosy when considering these funds, she says.
More from The Wall Street Journal:
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Yes, keep it simple.
Find the advisor who keeps informed, pursues financial education, and represents your interests best.
Just look in the mirror.
And with index funds you will be O.K., even Einstein isn't staring back at you.
Wall street guys love to make investing complicated.95% of wall street guys can`t beat
an index fund.
Don’t forget to diversify your investments outside of the financial markets too. Contrary to what Wall Street might tell you, there are smart investments which aren’t made of paper; like physical gold, land, collectibles, etc. As always, the key is buying in at the right price.
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