Give Your Retirement Portfolio a Checkup

Good retirement investing doesn't have to be a high-maintenance affair. While some people enjoy following the daily ups and downs of their holdings, others don't want the heartburn -- or just don't care to spend that much time on something that doesn't require it. And while there's no such thing as a truly hands-off retirement portfolio -- unless you've put your whole nest egg into a lifecycle fund, which has some drawbacks -- investing well need not be complicated.

If it's been a while since you've looked at your holdings, take a little time now to give your portfolio this simple checkup. A checkup like this every year or so, together with the occasional update as events warrant, will help keep you solidly on course toward your retirement goals.

Step 1: Review your allocation
Chances are, when you first set up your 401(k), you used an online asset allocation tool that determined your risk tolerance and told you what kinds of investments to hold. If that was more than a year or two ago, there are a few things you should do:

  • Try the calculator again. 401(k) providers have put a lot of effort into self-help tools like asset-allocation calculators in recent years. Odds are good that yours is a lot more detailed, and possibly more useful, than it was last time you used it. Try it again. Even the most complicated ones generally take half an hour or less to go through -- it's worth your time. If your 401(k) doesn't have a comprehensive tool, or if you want one that will take your other investments into account, there are some good ones online. Fidelity's "myPlan" tool is a solid choice, and available free of charge even if you're not a Fidelity customer.
  • Rebalance your portfolio. Even if your target asset allocation hasn't changed, your portfolio has probably drifted from your original allocation. That's because (surprise!) different asset classes perform differently, and that 5% you allocated to a hot stock may have become 11% of your portfolio. There's no need to keep strictly to your desired allocation, and in fact doing so can be detrimental -- if a stock or fund is outperforming at the moment, let it run! But as a general rule of thumb, if things have drifted more than 5% away from your target allocation, it's time to rebalance. You may find you only need to rebalance once every two or three years. Ignore "experts" who tell you to rebalance every few months -- making minor changes isn't worth the effort.
  • Check for tax efficiency. If your retirement portfolio includes investments in taxable accounts, now's a good time to make sure your holdings are arranged in a tax-efficient way across accounts. This isn't something you'll need to do every year, but it's easiest to do while you've got everything in front of you.

Congratulations! Just by working through this first step, you've already done some substantial portfolio housekeeping and helped keep yourself on track toward your goals. Wasn't that easy? In the second part of this article, we'll look at ways to ensure that your portfolio holdings are doing the jobs you bought them to do.

For more great ways to keep your retirement portfolio on track, check out The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. Each month's issue is packed with practical, easy-to-understand guidance and ideas from some of the best minds in the business. Check it out free for 30 days -- there's no obligation to buy.

Fool contributor John Rosevear has no position in the stocks named in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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