Investments are tools to help you reach your goals. Knowing more about how to use them may help improve your financial future. The answers to a few simple investment questions can move you a long way toward understanding what you need and how your portfolio can help. Think about your investment portfolio and ask a financial advisor these 5 questions:
1. What is this money for?
Most people find it easier to allocate their savings toward particular goals. Are you saving for retirement? Is this an emergency fund? Do you want to take a dream vacation? Are you concerned about paying for long-term care in retirement?
Determining your broad objectives will help you make decisions about such issues as the amount of risk you are willing to tolerate and the types of investment products that fit best with your philosophy. For example, if your goal is an emergency fund, you might select a low-risk investment, which in turn may mean that it has a smaller return.
2. What is the expected rate of return?
Of course, you want to make as much money as possible, but it's important to remember that the way you choose to invest that money may have particular constraints that can limit how much — or how quickly — you see returns on that investment. There are two main factors that affect returns: risk and fees. It helps to understand how much money an investment is likely to make; the form of that return, such as capital gains, interest or dividends; and the cost of the investment. With that understanding, you can make the investment decision that aligns with your financial goals.
For example, some people choose retirement investments that have a potentially higher rate of return because they have more time to make up losses, which may not be the case with money allocated for a down payment on a first house.
3. How much risk can I tolerate?
All investing involves some risk. This means that, no matter the type of investment you make, there's a level of uncertainty regarding how the investment may perform or how much money you might — or might not — earn from it. This means your investment may earn more than you expect in any one year, or you may lose some or all of the investment. How much risk you can bear depends not only on your personal temperament but also on how much time will pass until you need the money — and what your overall financial position is.
4. What is my tax situation?
Certain types of investments carry tax advantages, at least for some investors. For example, making contributions to retirement plans, college savings plans and certain types of life insurance policies may reduce income taxes for the year you invest that money. Whether or not you may benefit depends on what state you live in and your overall financial situation.
Selling some investments also impacts your taxes for the year. If you earned money on the investments you made, you pay capital gains taxes on the profit you earned. If you sell an investment at a loss, meaning less than you paid for it, you can claim that loss to lower other capital gains amounts on your tax return for the year.
5. What are my special needs and circumstances?
People and families differ in their financial needs. Maybe you have stock from your employer, expect to inherit farmland from your grandfather or have a religious objection to certain types of investments. Other common but special circumstances include the need to provide for a child with a disability, pursue philanthropic interests or support a blended family. These will affect your financial goals, your risk and return requirements, and possibly your tax situation.
This isn’t a one-time exercise. Your financial situation and the financial markets will change over time, so revisiting these questions will help keep you on track. As the answers to these investment questions change, you can alter your financial planning so that your money continues to work for you. Make sure you have a knowledgeable financial advisor help you answer these questions and make sound decisions that address your needs.