How do you grow your 401k without taking on too much risk? What are low-risk 401k investments for those who want to balance higher potential returns with a lower degree of risk? What’s the best way to invest in my 401(k) and get the most out of it?
These questions and more will be answered as we explore what low-risk 401k investments are, how they work, and where you can find them
How to Invest Your 401(k)
Come to Terms with Risk
Some believe that investing is hazardous, but the danger lies in keeping money. That is correct: You will lose money if you do not invest your retirement funds.
Let’s pretend you have $10,000 in cash. It may be worth less than half of that in 30 years when inflation is taken into account since it has not been invested. But if you invest money from your 401(k) at a 7% return each year, you’ll have over $75,000 by the time you retire.
Clearly, you’re better off putting your cash to work. But how?
The answer is intelligent asset allocation, the process of determining where your funds will be invested. Asset allocation spreads risk. Stocks are the most hazardous investment; bonds and other guaranteed investments are the safest. You wouldn’t put all of your life’s savings in cash, and you shouldn’t bet everything on a hot return from a startup IPO.
Instead, you’re looking for a road map that is appropriate to the amount of risk you want to take and keeps you pointed in the right long-term direction.
Decide How Much Risk You’re Comfortable With
Those who have decades to save should take more risk early on and decrease it as retirement nears. When it comes to investing, you should generally subtract your age from 110 or 100 to determine how large a percentage of your portfolio should be invested in equities; the rest should be in bonds. A more aggressive portfolio may be constructed using a 110 percent factor; a more conservative one, on the other hand, may be achieved by dividing by 100.
Of course, a rule of thumb isn’t perfect; it doesn’t consider other variables, such as your risk tolerance.
Weigh Your Investment Options
The meager investment alternatives available to 401(k)s are selected by your plan provider and your employer. You’re not picking individual stocks and bonds (whew!), but mutual funds – ideally ETFs or index funds – that pool your money with other investors to acquire small slices of many related securities.
The majority of 401(k) plans offer at least one investment fund in each of the following categories: U.S. large-cap, which refers to the value of businesses within that category, U.S. small-cap, international, emerging markets, and alternatives like natural resources or real estate in some cases. To diversify your portfolio, spread the amount you’ve set aside for equities among these funds.
The range of bond options in 401(k)s is generally even more restricted, although you’ll usually be given the option of investing in a diversified bond market fund. If you have access to an international bond fund, you might consider putting some money into it to diversify internationally.
Minimize Expense Ratios
Expense ratios are the costs associated with specific investments, which vary greatly. They’re calculated as a percentage of the sum invested.
You’ll find that your 401(k) provides only one choice in some of the categories listed above, but when you have a range, you should go with the lowest-cost option — generally an index fund. Index funds follow a stock index, such as the S&P 500, and are less expensive than mutual funds that are actively managed by professionals. You’ll pay for that individual to operate the levers, but it seldom results in greater gains.
Even a small shift in fees might have a huge impact over time. Assume you’ve put $100,000 into a portfolio earning 7% per year: A fund with an 0.80% fee would consume $70,000 more of your gains over 30 years than one with a 0.40% fee.
Know When to Outsource
If you’ve gone asleep or are frozen with anxiety, you may want to seek additional assistance. You have a few options, some of which might be more expensive than a DIY technique — but then again, it’s difficult to quantify the value of peace of mind.
One is a target-date fund, which is available in most 401(k)s. These funds have a year in their names to reflect the year you intend to retire. If you’re 30, a 2050 fund is an excellent choice. This is the fund in which you invest all of your 401(k) money, which diversifies for you and takes less risk as time goes on.
A Robo-advisor or an online planning service, for example, may be a better alternative to a target-date fund. Blooom, for instance, manages your 401(k) at your current provider, setting your asset allocation and automatically rebalancing it on your behalf. Low-cost access to human advisors and comprehensive guidance on your finances, including how to invest your 401(k), is available from several online planning services, including many of the ones we feature as top financial advisors.
Tips for Choosing the Best 401k Investments
It’s important to remember that determining which investments are “the best” is not a “one-size-fits-all” situation. Everyone begins saving at different ages, with different objectives, earnings, and living expenses, and varying retirement expectations. All of these variables influence which investments are most suitable for you. Your selection may be further complicated by the employer’s financial services options.
A 401(k) plan must provide at least three diversified alternatives, each with varied risks and returns by law. Collectibles, such as art, antiques, gems, and coins, are generally not permitted to be invested in, but you may do so under specific circumstances. These are not typically suggested for retirement plans since they don’t provide a set rate of return, but they do fluctuate in value according to investor psychology and industrial worth.
Your Investment Level
At the least, you should contribute at least as much as your employer’s match. You can contribute up to $17,500 (or $23,000 if you’re 50 or older) in 2014 (including any contributions from your payroll and your employer). The majority of individuals prefer to remove equal portions of their annual contributions each pay period. If you wish to contribute $12,000 each year, for example, you would ask to have $1,000 deducted from your income every month.
Your Retirement Time Frame
When it comes to selecting the finest investment plan, the time between now and the day you want to retire is a major concern. Simply said, when you have more time, you can take greater risks. Investments are unpredictable in the short term; rather than reflecting real financial performance, investor psychology drives their prices up and down. As time goes on, actual results take the place of sentiment, causing prices to reflect a firm’s potential to consistently produce income. Potentials become realities.
Your Investment Knowledge
What are your views on various investments? Have you ever purchased a corporation or government bond or invested in a mutual fund? Do you understand how diversification – having numerous assets instead of a single one – affects risk and return? Is your expertise limited to opening a savings account or purchasing your firm’s stock? Do you have the time to understand investing and the various investment options available to you?
There are many decisions to make, depending on the structure of your 401k account, whether your employer allows you to manage the investments inside it.
Low-Risk Options for Your 401(k)
Stable Value Funds
By far, the most common feature of a 401(k) plan is a stable value fund, which is meant to provide complete security for your money. Stable value funds offer protection for your money by investing only in safe investment vehicles that minimize the chance that the value of your assets will decrease.
With all safe investments accessible to 401k investors, the risk of a stable value fund is that the return will not match with inflation over time. In the end, the principal will be safeguarded, but purchasing power may be lost to inflation’s corrosive effect.
When considering a 401(k), it’s important to weigh the threat of loss against the potential for greater gains. If you want to be very careful with your money, there are several methods to safeguard it and ensure that your retirement savings will still be accessible when you retire.
Money Market Funds
In the event of a stock market correction, money market funds keep your assets safe by keeping the share value constant. These funds solely invest in secure short-term instruments, ensuring that their value is stable and minimizing risk.
While there are several types of bond funds, they all have one thing in common: interest rates that are typically quite low. While the principal is secure, there’s always the possibility that the fund won’t keep up with inflation or that you will lose purchasing power over time.
It’s critical to balance the risks of loss with the potential for higher returns when it comes to 401(k)s. If you wish to be cautious, there are a number of techniques to safeguard your principal and ensure that your retirement funds will be available when you need them.
High-Grade Corporate Bond Funds
High-grade corporate bonds have a greater yield than government bonds, but they lack the security of Treasury bills. Bonds are typically considered safer than equities because bondholders are secured creditors, and stockholders are unsecured ones. In the event of a bankruptcy, bondholders are normally paid first. 401k investors may decrease their risk even further while improving the return on their money by keeping to highly rated corporate bonds.
A growth-oriented mutual fund has investments that may develop in value. You don’t get any credit protection when you buy a mutual fund, and stock-heavy funds are more volatile than funds made up of different securities. If you invest all of your money in one company’s stocks, it’s like putting all of your eggs in one basket.
A mutual fund, on the other hand, comprises a variety of equities. Therefore you have some protection due to the diversity of your holdings. You may further protect yourself by investing in a stock fund that invests in companies from various sectors of the economy. In general, stocks from well-established firms are less risky than those from new entrants.
Mutual funds that are part of many 401(k) accounts contain primarily foreign equities and bonds. Securities originating from developing nations offer you a greater growth potential. On the other hand, these securities are riskier than those issued by more established firms based in economically stronger countries.
On the other hand, foreign investments offer some level of security in the event of an economic downturn. When the dollar drops, foreign assets appreciate in value. Similarly, when the United States economy improves, and the dollar gains strength, foreign assets suffer depreciation.
A bankruptcy occurs when a company is unable to pay its debts. Before stockholders can make any claims on the firm’s assets, bondholders are paid in full. As a result, bonds are seen as more conservative alternatives than stocks. Federal bonds are considered the safest investments in the market, followed by municipal bonds and corporate debt.
Low-yield bonds are a type of bond that is high in risk. This entails the possibility that prices will rise at a rate that outstrips the returns on your investments, resulting in inflation risk. The Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) — which provide protection against inflation — are one way to reduce this danger. Due to changes in the market, stock investments provide you with a high level of protection against inflation risk.
How Much Should I Invest?
If you’re a long way away from retirement and can’t figure out how to make ends meet now, a 401(k) plan may seem like an afterthought. However, with the addition of an employer match (if offered) and a tax benefit, it becomes very appealing.
The achievable goal for a first-time home buyer might be a minimum payment to your 401(k) plan. That minimal should be the amount that allows you to receive the full match from your employer. To fully benefit from the tax advantages, you must contribute the maximum yearly amount each year.
Understanding the basics of 401(k) investing can help you make smarter choices about your investments and potentially even increase your earnings. The world of investment is unfamiliar to many, so it’s important that you learn some basic information before picking funds on your own. Learning more about what options are available to you will not only save money but also give you a better chance at earning more in retirement.