Where Not to Stash Your Cash

Everyone needs a little cash on hand. Perhaps you're saving up for a down payment on that house you plan to purchase next year. Or maybe, after reading it a million times, you've followed the advice to have three to six months' worth of expenses in an emergency fund.

Whatever your reasons, you should have some easily accessible assets at the ready. But where should you stash that cash? Here are five candidates for the worst places:

1. Retirement accounts
Tempted to take out loans from your 401(k) or withdraw contributions (the money you've deposited) from your Roth IRA penalty-free? Unless you are willing to develop a taste for cat food, don't shortchange your future. If you must, though, take the loan, because you can't replace borrowed Roth contributions. Don't even consider taking money out of a regular IRA unless you like donating around half of it to Uncle Sam in the form of taxes and penalties. (Speaking of retirement accounts, you have just one month left to contribute to a 2003 IRA. Visit our IRA Center for details.)

2. Collectibles such as coins and antiques
If you need to raise funds from collectibles in a hurry, the sharks smell blood in the water, and you are less likely to get a good price for Great Aunt Betsy's Colonial-era sewing kit.

3. Long-term bonds
When you buy a bond, you are guaranteed a set amount of interest plus the return of your principal on the maturity date. Before that, all bets are off. If you want your principal back before the maturity date, you have to sell the bond for the going price, which could be less than the face value. The longer the term, the more sensitive bond prices are to interest rate changes.

4. Your family
Yeah, you've got a lot invested in those kids, and you might get a nice price for them on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) , if they are polite and don't eat much. But we can't recommend liquidating this asset, tempting as it may be at times.

5. The Big No-No: The Stock Market
Ask yourself: Why do stocks pay more than fixed-income investments over the long run? Because sometimes (the years 2000 to 2002 come to mind) stocks pay LESS over the short run. An average annual return of around 4% is a reasonable average for fixed-income investments. The market does better than that most of the time, but not always: From 1926 to 2003, the market returned less than 4% in one out of every three years, and most of those sub-4% returns were negative.

If you are saving for a down payment on a home, car, college, or new chin in the next few years, there is a significant possibility that a stock market investment will be in the red when the time comes to buy.

Learn more about how to manage your short-term savings in our Savings Center, which also features some special interest rate deals for Fools.

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