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Worried Market Watchers: What (Not) To Do Next

When you hear about big percentage losses in the stock market, you're bound to feel butterflies. Listen in for some brief advice on how to think practically about your investment goals during the market turbulence.

Articles by Jill Schlesinger

By Jill Schlesinger, CFP®
  |  Published: February 8, 2018

Stock investors are coming off one of the rockiest stretches in two years, leading to the inevitable question: What should I do when the market drops?

The answer for long-term investors is clear: nothing. Still, when you hear about big point and percentage losses—especially as the second longest bull market on record tempts some people to call it the market top—it’s hard not to feel butterflies.

Although you may be tempted to sell your holdings, you do so at your own peril. Market timing requires you to make two precise decisions: when to sell and then when to buy back in, something that is nearly impossible. After all, even if you sell and manage to steer clear of the bear by staying in cash, you will not be able to reinvest dividends and fixed-income payments at the bottom and you are likely to miss the eventual market recovery.

The best way to avoid falling into the trap of letting your emotions dictate your investment decisions is to remember that you are a long-term investor and you do not have all of your eggs in one basket. Try to adhere to a diversified portfolio strategy, based on your goals, risk tolerance and time horizon and do not be reactive to short-term market conditions, because over the long term, this strategy works. It’s not easy to do, but sometimes the best action is NO ACTION.

If you are really freaked out about the movement in your portfolio, perhaps you came into this period with too much risk. If that’s the case, you may need to readjust your allocation. If you do make changes, be careful NOT to jump back into those riskier holdings after markets stabilize.

And if you know that you need to access cash from your investments within the next year, perhaps for a house down payment, a car purchase or a tuition bill, that money should not be at risk at all, so go ahead and get it out of the market.

Listen to our episode of the Better Off Podcast to learn about how to react during tumultuous market changes.

The opinions stated on the Better Off podcast are those of the host, Jill Schlesinger, and her guests, and not those of Betterment or its employees. Any third party links provided are offered as a matter of convenience and are not intended to imply that Betterment endorses, or is affiliated with the owners of or any information contained on those sites, unless expressly stated otherwise. Subscribe to “Better Off” here.

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