Painful memories of 2008’s market collapse still linger for most people. So lest we forget, Consumer Reports Money Adviser’s experts listed some common investor mistakes, pre- and post-meltdown, and how to avoid them the next time around.
Following the herd.
This emotional approach to investing often results in buying high and selling low, the opposite of what most of us want to do. But whether the Standard & Poor’s 500 is up a certain amount, or your neighbor is making a killing, shouldn’t matter to you. Your strategy should be based on your individual goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance, not those of your neighbor. In following the herd, you risk buying near the top. Similarly, the greatest volume of selling is generally near the market bottoms, when the news headlines are the most dire, and a turnaround seems most improbable.
What to do instead. Set up asset allocation, and make regular investments at set intervals, regardless of what the market is doing or pundits are prognosticating. If you’re still some years away from leaving the workplace, consider target-date funds, which shift their mix of investments automatically based on your anticipated date of retirement.
Running for safety.
In the aftermath of the 2008 market meltdown, many investors realized that they had too much invested in stocks and too little in bonds and cash. Some reacted by liquidating what was left of their stocks and pouring money into treasury bonds as a safe haven. Unfortunately, that, too, could turn out to be a mistake. Should interest rates rise or the U.S. fiscal situation deteriorate, being locked into treasuries, particularly long-term ones, or just having too large a bond position, could mean trailing inflation.
What to do instead. Playing it safe might make sense if you don’t have a long time horizon and can’t wait for the market to recover. But if you want your portfolio to grow over time, you should continue to hold some stocks. If you’re a bond investor, stick to shorter-term issues until the interest rate picture becomes clearer.
Overpaying for past performance.
If you buy a fund because its manager delivered big returns in the past, you could end up paying management fees for old returns that he or she might not be able to duplicate.
What to do instead. Hold a mix of index funds and low-cost managed funds. Index funds are the cheapest ways for individual investors to build a diversified portfolio and get what’s basically a market rate of return. Managed funds can fill in niche areas of the market, such as real estate or high-yield bonds, where a conservative manager can avoid some of the scarier investments that might be included in an index fund devoted to that sector.
Counting on your home as an investment.
It may be your biggest asset, but you shouldn’t expect to make much money from your home. Historically, real estate has returned only about half a percent a year after taking inflation into account.
What to do instead. Don’t base any assumptions of your ability to retire on how much your home might appreciate. Look to your home as a place to live, not as a sure-fire investment.
Some investors tend to ascribe their gains to their own abilities rather than the whims of the market. And they tend to think that they’re smarter than the average investor on the other side of the trade. That may not be the case, but you’re not competing with the average investor—you’re up against investment pros.
What to do instead. Don’t let your confidence lead you to trading more often than you should. Dollar cost averaging into mutual funds within an IRA or 401 (k) gives you psychological distance from the market’s gyration.#
Courtesy of Consumer Reports Money Adviser (www.consumerreportsmoneyadviser.org).