When a market swing dominate the news – like it did recently – it’s easy for investors in workplace retirement plans to get anxious.
“A sure way to heighten your concern is to check a 401(k) balance,” said Scott Dingwell, a member of the U.S. and Canada defined contribution team at BlackRock, in a statement.
A recent survey by the Investment Company Institute reported that 70% of employees in defined contribution plans said that knowing they are saving from every paycheck makes them worry less about the stock market’s performance.
Even so, Anne Ackerley, managing director and head of BlackRock’s U.S. and Canada defined contribution group, said many investors were still anxious during the recent market correction.
“Employees investing through defined contribution plans don’t always understand that [market volatility comes with the territory], as shown by the thousands of calls and spike in trading volume that recordkeepers experienced on Aug. 24, in the midst of the market correction,” writes Ackerley in a paper titled “Building DC Plans for Volatile Times.”
In response, BlackRock’s U.S. and Canada Defined Contribution Group put together a list to help keep workplace investors from overreacting in ways that could damage their retirement savings.
“Time and time again, researchers find that the real key to successful retirement outcomes is consistent, long-term savings — and staying invested in good times and bad,” Ackerley writes, adding, “There are ways that the DC industry can help people stay invested in their plans amid volatility. We believe that thoughtful plan design and investment choices can play a critical role in getting people to feel comfortable continuing to work toward a secure retirement – right when they most need to do so.”
Here are four of BlackRock’s suggested 401(k) strategies for employers and employees to keep in mind in a volatile market:
1. Consider Target Date Funds (TDFs)
“Target date funds maintain a methodical (read that: unemotional) approach designed to invest more of your assets in equities earlier in your career, when you have more time to make up for any short-term losses,” writes Dingwell.
As the investor nears retirement, TDFs generally move more assets into fixed income and cash-like vehicles with the goal to make the nest egg less vulnerable.
Ackerley notes that TDFs — of which BlackRock is a major provider — are the default investment at this point for the majority of DC plans that use auto-enrollment.
“One of the important questions employers should be asking when they evaluate TDFs: Does the fund successfully keep investors?” she writes. “And does it encourage increased investment over time? Finally, does the fund have a goal that most investors can readily understand?”
2. Consider Increasing Your Contributions
This time may be an opportunity to add to one’s equity holdings.
And, as Dingwell states, increasing a 401(k) contribution rate is “almost always” a good choice.
“Now, it may make even more sense as a cost-effective way to buy into the markets over many years,” he writes.
3. Name Your Price
“If you think you must reduce your equity holdings, make a plan for re-entry,” Dingwell advises. “Consider setting two prices: One that’s lower than where you sold, and another that’s higher. If the market doesn’t fall to the “smart move” price, better to buy back at the “oh, well” price than to give up growth potential.”
4. Time Is on Your Side
Dingwell says that most investors have years — perhaps even decades — to sell off equities.
“So why make any big moves now?” he writes. “Instead, take a moment to consider more effective and rational actions that might get better results in the long run.”
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