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Near retirement? Here's how to clean up your investment portfolio.

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Biden spotlights effort to rescue union pensions

President Joe Biden sought to reassure frustrated blue-collar voters in Ohio by highlighting federal action to shore up troubled pension funding for millions now on the job or retired. (July 6)

AP

In an environment marked by continuously rising inflation data, rapidly rising interest rates and freakishly low consumer sentiment, aspiring retirees have every reason to feel uneasy about the coming years. While a recession is by no means a guarantee, we are starting to see hallmarks of what could be a protracted period of economic slowdown. However, retirements will happen regardless, and it’s best to understand how to manage such a period should one come to fruition. 

Let’s recap a few easy but impactful ways to shore up your retirement portfolio, including consolidation, moving away from single stocks, recommitting to index funds and building up a cash reserve.

Consolidate where possible

If you have old 401(k)s, IRAs or other accounts at different institutions, retirement is a great time to merge similarly taxed accounts and commit to one or two financial institutions. Not only does this cut down on paperwork, tax forms and passwords, but it’s far easier to manage your investment and tax picture when you can see the whole thing from a single bird’s-eye view. 

This is more than just administrative. If you have accounts scattered across institutions, it’s likely that you’re holding a few high-expense funds or paying excess management costs somewhere. These high costs can eat into your investment returns, leaving you with less than you could otherwise have to enjoy in retirement.

Move on from single stocks

If you have small single-stock positions as part of your wider portfolio, it’s now a great time to move on from them. Single stocks carry company-specific or “idiosyncratic” risk, which is the inherent risk associated with holding shares of a single company. You can remove this risk by committing to portfolio diversification and focusing on the factors you can control, like how much you save and coming up with an appropriate asset allocation

Further, since the broad market has corrected more than 20% year to date, there’s a good chance you’ll owe less in capital gains tax if you decide to move out of your single positions now. This is, of course, dependent on which single stocks you own, but if there was ever a time to rebalance out of them, that time has likely arrived. 

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Recommit to index funds

Index funds do quite a bit for retirees. They help keep costs low, which has shown to be a major factor in keeping more of your investment returns. Perhaps most importantly, index funds help you reduce the time spent managing your portfolio, which in retirement could not be more valuable. Simply selecting a fund that tracks the S&P 500 and a fund that tracks the total bond market may be enough for you.

Taking a 10,000-foot view of your portfolio and allocating investments to diversified index funds will likely produce a return close to the market’s overall return, which tends to be higher than the majority of active investors. Passively accepting the broad market return instead of picking single stocks is likely to be the right call in the way of tax- and time-efficiency, so consider a hands-off approach as you enter retirement.

Establish a cash reserve

Even with unusually high inflation numbers, cash is still king — especially in bear-market economies. Although inflation will reduce purchasing power on low-yielding investments like cash, you’ll still need a healthy reserve fund to cover unexpected emergencies. 

Relying on the stock market to cover out-of-nowhere expenses is a risky proposition in retirement. Conversely, knowing you have a reasonable cash reserve in the event of calamity provides a great deal of psychological comfort. Having an accessible, fully liquid, high-yield savings account is the best home for this section of your portfolio. There’s no need to get creative with a brokerage account. 

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Tighten up your financial life

The more scattered your life is going into retirement, the more time you’ll spend making sense of it, and the more stress you’re likely to encounter. Take the months leading up to retirement to ensure you are doing everything you can to make your life as easy as possible down the line. By consolidating your investments, moving on from single stocks, recommitting to index funds and establishing a cash reserve, you’ll be doing what you can to ensure a peaceful experience in retirement. 

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