Sunday, August 21, 2011

“Checking” Accounts

I finally got to the dentist last week.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my dentist. The folks there are more than nice, they treat you like an adult (even when you clearly haven’t flossed since your last visit), and they outline options in a way that feels like you actually have a choice (including my personal favorite, “If it’s not bothering you, do nothing”).

That said, it had been a ridiculously long time since I had been there. Honestly, I knew it had been a while, but when my dentist pulled out his (detailed) record of my last visit—well, let’s just say I couldn’t believe it had been that long. In fact, I think if I had known how long it had been before I went, I might well have postponed it again, if only to spare myself the embarrassment.

Fortunately, despite my extended hiatus, things were in pretty good shape. Sure, the cleaning was more painful than it might have been, but overall, things were better than I had a right to expect.

After the market tumult of the past several weeks, I’m sure there are a lot of plan participants who are nervous about the state of their retirement savings accounts, and perhaps rightly so. I’m betting that, for most, it’s been longer than they think since they checked those accounts—and despite the recent headlines, those accounts may be in better shape than they expect.

The mantra in such times is, inevitably, “stay the course”—wise counsel in most situations, particularly since the impulse in such times is often action that one comes to regret in the fullness of time. However, for some, just sitting still and “taking” what the markets choose to inflict on your retirement savings can be excruciating.

To Do List

Here are some things participants can do while waiting for things to turn around—things they may have been putting off:

Get started on rebalancing by changing the investment elections of new contributions, rather than transferring existing balances. It will take longer to realign the entire account, but at least you aren't realizing those as-yet-unrealized losses.

Increase current deferral rates. When you think about just how much cheaper those retirement plan investments are now, it's hard to pass up that kind of bargain. More so if you aren't yet saving at the maximum level of the match.

Consider automated rebalancing. Most providers now have in place mechanisms that will, on some preset frequency (monthly, quarterly, annually), automatically rebalance individual accounts in accordance with investment elections. It's a good way to keep things in balance without having to worry (or remember) about the best time to do so.

—Nevin E. Adams, JD

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