Asset allocation is crucial to creating and balancing your investment portfolio. You can slice your 401(k) portfolio to suit your taste.

As you accumulate retirement assets, you must decide how to invest these assets.

Asset allocation is an investment strategy that spreads your money across asset classes or the mutual funds that invest in them. Market history shows that when one type of investment is performing poorly, others are often doing better. So by investing in several different classes, you may limit your risk and improve your chances of a higher long-term return. 

What is asset allocation in 401k?

Asset allocation is a strategy for increasing investment return while helping manage investment risk. You allocate by assigning percentages of your overall portfolio to different categories of investments known as asset classes.

Asset allocation is a three-step process:

  • You sketch out the mix of asset classes you think suits your portfolio.
  • You assign a percentage of the portfolio’s total value to each class.
  • You buy investments to fill in the percentages you’ve selected for each asset class.

For example, if you allocate 60% of your contribution to stock funds and put $400 from each paycheck into your 401(k), then $240 of each contribution goes into the stock funds ($400 x 60% = $240).

When you’re putting money into a 401(k), you’re essentially concerned with three primary asset classes:

  • Equity investments, including stocks and stock mutual funds
  • Fixed-income investments, including bonds and bond mutual funds
  • Capital preservation investments, including money market funds and stable value funds

Each asset class differs from the others in some critical ways, including how the value of the underlying investments is determined and how they put your money to work.

Current value of class / Total value of account = % of asset allocation

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What is a suitable allocation for 401(k)?

No single allocation model produces strong results in all economic climates, so firms suggest different models at different times. Even models suggested at the same time may differ, sometimes subtly and sometimes significantly. Likewise, your strategy may vary dramatically from what other people are doing.

For example, conventional wisdom suggests that the further away you are from retirement, the greater the investment risk. This approach isn’t right for everyone, however.

Say you’re in your early 30s. If you were to follow the guidelines for people 30 or more years away from retirement, you might invest 80% or more of your 401(k) account in stock and stock mutual funds. But if the effect of a bear market — a sustained downturn in the value of stock — makes you very uneasy, you may limit your stock allocation to 60% or less of your account.

On the other hand, suppose you’re in your 60s. According to conventional guidelines, you should have closer to 50% of your account invested in stock. But if Social Security, your pension benefits, and the part-time work you plan to do will cover most of your expenses right after retirement, you may want to be more aggressive with your 401(k) money.

So, you might invest a more significant portion — perhaps 60% — in stock, with the thought that you can always reallocate later. Unless your 401(k) is still in a former employer’s plan where you can’t make changes to the account, you’ll be able to adjust your allocation when you feel it’s essential. Remember, you’re making a long-term commitment to saving for retirement, not to specific investments or asset classes.

How to choose an asset allocation for your 401(k)?

As you accumulate retirement assets, the most crucial decision you need to make is how the assets will be invested. Choosing suitable investments is the first step in achieving your financial goals. It would be best to consider some things before investing in your asset allocation.

First and foremost, you should determine your risk tolerance. Of course, the level of risk you are comfortable with can vary significantly from one person to another. Nevertheless, it’s a well-known fact that investments posing a greater risk to your principal offer potentially more significant returns and a greater probability of losses, at least in the short term. Therefore, for several years after retirement, investors should confirm that their investments are consistent with their ability to bear volatility and risk tolerance.

Secondly,you need to consider your investment goals. Spreading your 401(k) account balance into different types of investments is an excellent idea. Thousands of funds are available in the financial market, and your company’s 401(k) plan can offer a selection of stock and bond funds or other types of investments. Stocks can potentially have higher returns but can be more volatile than bonds. Bonds are more stable but, over time, offer potentially lower returns. If your target is maximum long-term growth, as it may be for most of the time you’re putting money into a 401(k) account, you may want to put the most significant emphasis on growth investments, specifically stock and stock funds. On the other hand, if you’re getting closer to retirement, you may want to gradually shift the proportion of stock and bonds or other fixed-income securities so that more of your assets are more stable in value and produce regular income.

Asset Allocation

Try to avoid choosing funds with high fees. You must pay attention to the fees, especially the expense ratio, which refers to how much you are charged for investing in a specific fund.

You should also be aware of how to use target-date funds to retire on your terms. A target-date fund will allocate your assets for you based on your approximate retirement year. If your 401(k) plan includes this variant, it can simplify the process. In addition, these funds help you diversify your portfolio by distributing your r 401 (k) money between different asset classes, including large-company stocks, small-company stocks, emerging-markets stocks, real estate stocks, and bonds.

Why is it essential to pick the right allocation?

There is no simple formula that can find the right asset allocation for everyone. But, asset allocation is one of the investors’ most important decisions. It can be the principal determinant of your investment results.

There are several reasons why asset allocation is a crucial principle of sound investing:

  • No single asset class produces the strongest return year in and year out.
  • Different asset classes produce their most substantial returns at different times and conditions.
  • An asset class with a strong return in one year may have a weak return in the next or the reverse.

Besides, it is also worth mentioning that you can track your 401(k) asset allocation. Your account statement reports the percentage of your total contribution that goes into each fund. And you can estimate whether the actual value of the different asset classes is in line with the allocation you’ve chosen by dividing the current value of each asset class by the total value of your account.

Next, you might look at financial institutions’ asset allocation models. They can give you a sense of what the professionals are thinking. Then work with your retirement adviser to design an allocation model that suits your age, retirement plans, and risk tolerance.

You can also create an allocation model using retirement planning software from mutual fund companies and brokerage firms. Or you might try the retirement planning tools available on many financial websites.

Finding The Best Asset Allocation For Your 401k by Inna Rosputnia

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