Many market shocks are short-lived once investors conclude the event is unlikely to cause lasting economic damage. Still, major market downturns such as the 2000 dot-com bust and the 2008-09 credit crisis are powerful reminders that we cannot control or predict exactly how, where, or when precarious situations will arise.

Market risk refers to the possibility that an investment will lose value because of a broad decline in the financial markets, which can be the result of economic or sociopolitical factors. Investors who are willing to accept more investment risk may benefit from higher returns in the good times, but they also get hit harder during the bad times. A more conservative portfolio generally means there are fewer highs, but also fewer lows.

Your portfolio’s risk profile should reflect your ability to endure periods of market volatility, both financially and emotionally. Here are some questions that may help you evaluate your personal relationship with risk.

How much risk can you afford?

Your capacity for risk generally depends on your current financial position (income, assets, and expenses) as well as your age, health, future earning potential, and time horizon. Your time horizon is the length of time before you expect to tap your investment assets for specific financial goals. The more time you have to keep the money invested, the more likely it is that you can ride out the volatility associated with riskier investments. An aggressive risk profile may be appropriate if you’re investing for a retirement that is many years away. However, investing for a teenager’s upcoming college education may call for a conservative approach.

How much risk may be needed to meet your goals?

lf you know how much money you have to invest and can estimate how much you will need in the future, then it’s possible to calculate a “required return” (and a corresponding level of risk) for your investments. Older retirees who have sufficient income and assets to cover expenses for the rest of their lives may not need to expose their savings to risk. On the other hand, some risk-averse individuals may need to invest more aggressively to accumulate enough money for retirement and offset another risk: that inflation could erode the purchasing power of their assets over the long term.

How much risk are you comfortable taking?

Some people seem to be born risk-takers, whereas others are cautious by nature, but an investor’s true psychological risk tolerance can be difficult to assess. Some people who describe their personality a certain way on a questionnaire may act differently when they are tested by real events.

Moreover, an investor’s attitude toward risk can change over time, with experience and age. New investors may be more fearful of potential losses. Investors who have experienced the cyclical and ever-changing nature of the economy and investment performance may be more comfortable with short-term market swings.

Brace yourself

Market declines are an inevitable part of investing, but abandoning a sound investment strategy in the heat of the moment could be detrimental to your portfolio’s long-term performance. One thing you can do to strengthen your mindset is to anticipate scenarios in which the value of your investments were to fall by 20% to 40%. If you become overly anxious about the possibility of such a loss, it might be helpful to reduce the level of risk in your portfolio. Otherwise, having a plan in place could help you manage your emotions when turbulent times arrive.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2018

A new year is right around the corner, bringing with it a fresh start for you and your finances. What will you do this year to help improve your financial situation?

Evaluate your savings goals. The beginning of the year is a great time to examine your overall financial plan. Maybe you want to buy a new vehicle this year or save money toward a Caribbean cruise next year. Perhaps you want to focus less on material items and more on long-term goals, such as your retirement savings. Regardless of what you are setting money aside for, make sure you come up with a realistic savings plan that will help you achieve your goals and avoid the risk of significant loss.

Pay down debt. Whether you owe money on your credit cards or have student loan payments to make, the start of a new year is a good time to develop a strategy to reduce your overall level of debt. Reducing your debt can help create opportunities to contribute toward other goals throughout the year. But unless you can definitely afford it, don’t plan to pay off all your debts in one fell swoop. Set a smaller goal that you’ll be more likely to achieve over the course of the year.

Automate as much as you can. Your plan to pay down debt can be accomplished more easily if you automate your bill paying, saving, and investing. Most banks, credit card issuers, retirement plan providers, and investment companies offer services that make payments automatic — allowing you to worry less about payment dates. The best part is that it might only take a few taps on your smartphone to make these processes automatic.

Think about organizing your financial documents. If your overall financial situation is already in good shape for the new year, consider taking time now to clear out and organize your financial records. Do you have important documents, such as your tax returns or passport, in a safe place? Are you holding on to records that you no longer need? Organizing your financial records now can save you time and frustration later if you need to locate a particular document.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

If your financial plan for 2017 didn’t work out the way you wanted it to, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, ask yourself the following questions to determine what you can learn from reflecting on your financial situation in the last year.

Did you meet your financial goals and expectations for 2017? Perhaps you started the year with some financial goals in mind. You wanted to establish a budget that you could stick to, or maybe you hoped to build up your emergency savings fund throughout the year. If you fell short of accomplishing these or other goals, think about the reasons why. Were your goals specific? Did you develop a realistic timeframe for when they would be achieved? If not, learn to set attainable and measurable goals for your finances in the new year.

How did your investments perform? A year-end review of your overall portfolio can help you determine whether your asset allocation is balanced and in line with your time horizon and goals. If one type of investment performed well during the year, it could represent a greater percentage of your portfolio than you initially wanted. As a result, you might consider selling some of it and using that money to buy other types of investments to rebalance your portfolio. Keep in mind that selling investments could result in a tax liability. And remember, asset allocation does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss; it is a method to help manage investment risk. All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

Are your retirement savings on track? Did you contribute the amount you wanted in 2017? Or did unexpected financial emergencies force you to borrow or withdraw money from your retirement savings? In that case, you can help your savings recover by contributing the most you can to your employer-sponsored retirement plan and taking advantage of employer matching (if it’s available to you). Contributing to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan can help you save more consistently because your contributions are automatically deducted from your salary, helping you avoid the temptation to skip a month now and then.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

In 2016, the first wave of baby boomers turned 70½, and many more reach that milestone in 2017 and 2018. What’s so special about 70½? That’s the age when you must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-deferred retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, SEP IRAs, SARSEPs, and 401(k), 403(b), and 457(b) plans. Original owners of Roth IRAs are not required to take RMDs.

If you’re still employed (and not a 5% owner), you may be able to delay minimum distributions from your current employer’s plan until after you retire, but you still must take RMDs from other tax-deferred accounts (except Roth IRAs). The RMD is the smallest amount you must withdraw each year, but you can always take more than the minimum amount.

Failure to take the appropriate RMD can trigger a 50% penalty on the amount that should have been withdrawn — one of the most severe penalties in the U.S. tax code.

Distribution deadlines

Even though you must take an RMD for the tax year in which you turn 70½, you have a one-time opportunity to wait until April 1 (not April 15) of the following year to take your first distribution. For example:

  • If your 70th birthday was in May 2017, you turned 70½ in November and must take an RMD for 2017 no later than April 1, 2018.
  • You must take your 2018 distribution by December 31, 2018, your 2019 distribution by December 31, 2019, and so on.

IRS tables

Annual RMDs are based on the account balances of all your traditional IRAs and employer plans as of December 31 of the previous year, your current age, and your life expectancy as defined in IRS tables.

Most people use the Uniform Lifetime Table (Table III). If your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you and the sole beneficiary of your IRA, you must use the Joint Life and Last Survivor Expectancy Table (Table II). Table I is for account beneficiaries, who have different RMD requirements than original account owners. To calculate your RMD, divide the value of each retirement account balance as of December 31 of the previous year by the distribution period in the IRS table.

Aggregating accounts

If you own multiple IRAs (traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE), you must calculate your RMD separately for each IRA, but you can actually withdraw the required amount from any of your accounts. For example, if you own two traditional IRAs and the RMDs are $5,000 and $10,000, respectively, you can withdraw that $15,000 from either (or both) of your accounts.

Similar rules apply if you participate in multiple 403(b) plans. You must calculate your RMD separately for each 403(b) account, but you can take the resulting amount (in whole or in part) from any of your 403(b) accounts. But RMDs from 401(k) and 457(b) accounts cannot be aggregated. They must be calculated for each individual plan and taken only from that plan.

Also keep in mind that RMDs for one type of account can never be taken from a different type of account. So, for example, a 401(k) required distribution cannot be taken from an IRA. In addition, RMDs from different account owners may never be aggregated, so one spouse’s RMD cannot be taken from the other spouse’s account, even if they file a joint tax return. Similarly, RMDs from an inherited retirement account may never be taken from accounts you personally own.

Birthday Guide: This chart provides sample RMD deadlines for older baby boomers.

Month & year of birth Year you turn 70½ First RMD due Second RMD due
Jan. 1946 to June 1946 2016 April 1, 2017 Dec. 31, 2017
July 1946 to June 1947 2017 April 1, 2018 Dec. 31, 2018
July 1947 to June 1948 2018 April 1, 2019 Dec. 31, 2019
July 1948 to June 1949 2019 April 1, 2020 Dec. 31, 2020
July 1949 to June 1950 2020 April 1, 2021 Dec. 31, 2021

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

Health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are a great way for individuals to pay qualified medical and dental expenses using pre-tax dollars. While IRS rules do allow employers to offer either a carryover or grace period option for money left over in flexible spending accounts, many employer FSA plans still have provisions that don’t allow for funds contributed to an FSA to carry over from one plan year to the next. In other words, if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you find that you still have money left over in your FSA as the end of the year approaches, there are a number of ways to spend down your account balance.

FSA funds can be used to pay for a variety of out-of-pocket health-care expenses, such as deductibles and copayments. You can also use your FSA funds to pay for uncovered dental and vision care expenses. So now might be a good time to schedule any medical and dental appointments that you may have been putting off, stock up on contact lenses, or even replace an old pair of eyeglasses.

FSA funds can also be used to pay for both prescription drugs and many over-the-counter products, including:

  • Athletic braces and supports
  • Bandages
  • First-aid kits
  • Blood-pressure monitors
  • Shoe insoles and inserts

Keep in mind that certain over-the-counter medicines (e.g., pain relievers and allergy medication) require a doctor’s prescription in order for you to obtain reimbursement from your FSA.

If you continue to participate in your employer’s FSA, remember to choose your contribution amount carefully so that you don’t risk losing any contributions going forward. Many FSA plan administrators offer user-friendly websites that allow you to inquire about eligible expenses and keep track of your FSA purchases and account balances throughout the plan year.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017