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Assessing Your Risk Tolerance

April 10, 2018

While investors want the highest returns possible, returns compensate you for the risks you take — higher risks are generally rewarded with higher returns. Thus, you need to assess how much risk you are willing to take to obtain potentially higher returns.

However, this can be a difficult task. It is one thing to theoretically answer questions about how you would react in different circumstances and quite another to actually watch your investments decrease significantly in value. What you are trying to assess is your emotional tolerance for risk, or how much price volatility you are comfortable with. Some questions that can help you gauge your risk tolerance include:

What Long-Term Annual Rate of Return Do You Expect to Earn on Your Investments?

Your answer will help determine the types of investments you need to choose to meet that target. Review historical rates of return as well as variations in those returns over a long time period to see if your estimates are reasonable. Expecting a high rate of return may mean you’ll have to invest in asset classes you aren’t comfortable with or that you may be tempted to sell frequently. A better alternative may be to lower your expectations and invest in assets you are comfortable owning.

What length of time are you investing for? Some investments such as stocks should only be purchased for long time horizons. Using them for short-term purposes may increase the risk in your portfolio, since you may be forced to sell during a market downturn.

How Long are You Willing to Sustain a Loss Before Selling?

The market volatility of the past several years will give you some indication of how comfortable you are holding investments with losses.

What Types of Investments Do You Own Now and How Comfortable are You with Those Investments?

Make sure you understand the basics of any investments you own, including the historical rate of return, the largest one-year loss, and the risks the investment is subject to. If you don’t understand an investment or are not comfortable owning it, you may be tempted to sell at an inopportune time. Over time, your comfort level with risk should increase as your understanding of how risk impacts different investments increases.

Have You Reassessed Your Financial Goals Recently?

Due to the significant market volatility of the past few years, your financial plan may need to be revamped. Otherwise, you may find you won’t have sufficient resources in the future to meet your goals. Based on your current investment values, determine what needs to be done to meet your financial goals. You may need to save more, change or eliminate some goals, or delay your retirement date.

Do You Understand Ways to Reduce the Risk in Your Portfolio?

While all investments are subject to risk, there are some risk-reduction strategies you should consider for your portfolio. These strategies include:

  • Diversify your portfolio. Diversifying among several investment and insurance categories allows for a variety of resources and methods to meet your short- or long-term goals. A properly diversified portfolio may contain a combination of cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities, properties, and so on.
  • Stay in the market through different cycles. Remaining in the market over the long term helps reduce the risk of receiving a lower return than expected, especially for more volatile investments, such as stocks.
  • Use dollar cost averaging to invest. Rather than accumulating cash so you have a large sum to invest, invest small amounts regularly. Dollar cost averaging is a method of investing a certain sum of money in set amounts at regular intervals. This spreads your purchases over a period of time, keeping you from making one major purchase at high prices. Since you are investing a set amount, you purchase more shares when prices are lower and fewer shares when prices are higher. While a valuable investment strategy, dollar cost averaging does not ensure a profit or protect against losses in declining markets. Before starting a program, consider your ability to continue purchases during periods of low price levels. This strategy requires the discipline to invest consistently regardless of market prices and can help develop a habit of regular investing.

Use us as a resource to help you assess your existing risk tolerance against your existing assets.