Asset allocation -– how much money is invested where -– is the single most important factor in determining your return. “Studies have shown that this far outweighs which individual securities you select or how you time your acquisitions,” says Pat Swanson, CFP® and families specialist with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension’s Invest Wisely Project (www.extension.iastate.edu/investwisely) .
Swanson explains that asset allocation is the process of deciding the mix of assets in your portfolio to meet your goals –- the percentage to put into stocks, bonds, cash and perhaps other investment categories. “These markets historically do not move together. When one is at a high, another may be at a low, and the third somewhere in between. By having some of your money in all three areas, you can minimize risk. If the return on one asset category falls, you may be able to improve your overall return with better investment returns in another asset category.”
Basically, you’re trying to pick a mix of assets that has the highest probability of meeting your financial goals at a level of risk you can be comfortable with, Swanson says. “Generally, the younger you are, the more risk you can afford to take. If you’re young and investing for retirement, your primary concern may be growth of your portfolio and therefore you may have a high percentage of your portfolio invested in stocks or stock mutual funds. As you get closer to retirement or when you are retired, capital preservation,or protecting the value of your portfolio from any decline, is much more important.”
You also may need to change your asset allocation if there is a change in your risk tolerance, your financial situation, or your financial goals.
One general rule that some experts use is to subtract your age from 100 to determine the percentage of investment dollars to invest in stock for your retirement goals, Swanson says. For example, if you are 55, you might have 45 percent in stocks and 55 percent in bonds and cash. “Books, online resources, and financial professionals can help you determine your mix of assets but ultimately, it is a personal decision. There is no one asset allocation strategy for everyone or for every investment goal.”
Remember that it is important to periodically monitor your portfolio and rebalance it when necessary. “Some investments will grow faster than others. For example, if you have an asset allocation strategy where stock investments are 40 percent of your portfolio but because of the rise in the stock market, your stock investments now make up 55 percent of your portfolio, you will want to make adjustments to maintain your original allocation. You could sell some of your stock investments and purchase additional investments in other categories. Or you might leave your stock investments as they are but use additional money to purchase securities in the under weighted investment categories,” Swanson concludes.
The ISU Extension Invest Wisely Project provides a series of newspaper, radio, and web resources for investors. It is funded by a grant from the Investor Protection Trust (IPT). The IPT is a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education. Since 1993 the IPT has worked with the States to provide the independent, objective investor education needed by all Americans to make informed investment decisions. www.investorprotection.org.