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4 Moves to Make if the Stock Market Crashes Tomorrow

By Diane Mtetwa - Jun 16, 2021 at 9:50AM

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No one knows when a stock market crash could happen, but when it does, you should do these four things.

Is a stock market crash right around the corner? They're an inevitable part of investing, but no one knows if one will happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year.

Nothing you can do will prevent a crash from happening, but doing these four things can help you and your investment accounts survive one. 

Someone looking at a declining stock price on tablet while clenching fist.

Image source: Getty Images.

Calm your fears

Losing money can be terrifying, so any concerns you have are normal and understandable. But acting on those fears is likely to put you in a worse position overall. 

One way that you can calm your fears is by thinking about what the money you've invested is for. Is it for retirement? If it's money that you'll use in 20 years or more, how much will a stock market crash affect your ability to meet this goal? If you'd invested $10,000 between Jan. 2, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2020, into large-cap stocks, you would've endured the dot-com bubble bursting and the Great Recession. Despite all of that, you would've experienced a 7.47% average annual rate of return, and your current account value would've grown to $42,231. 

If the money that you're investing has an immediate use, such as paying college tuition in a year, it should be invested more conservatively. Over long periods of time, the stock market trends up, but you can still lose substantial amounts in the short term, so you shouldn't expose money that you need soon to excess risk. 

Reassess your risk tolerances

If you are truly scared of losing a large portion of your assets, it's possible your accounts are invested more aggressively than what is appropriate for your risk tolerance. And reassessing your asset allocation model could help you limit those losses. For example, the more stock exposure your holdings have, the more money you could make during a bull market, but you're also likely to lose more money during a bear market.

Let's say you were invested in large-cap stocks in 2002. You would've lost 22.1% of your account value. If you were invested in U.S. investment-grade bonds during that same period, you would've seen a 10.3% increase in your account value. But the following year, when the stock market rebounded, you would've earned a 28.7% return from those large-cap stock holdings and only 4.1% from owning bonds.

Taking a quiz that examines how you feel about volatility and risk will give you a good idea of what percentage of stocks and bonds you should have. You never know when a stock market crash will occur, though, and an attempt to change your allocations when one is happening may be too late. That's why one of the best ways you can protect your accounts is by keeping them invested with the same asset allocation model during all market cycles.

Avoid selling your investments

Your account statements and balances may show lower figures when stock prices are dropping, but these aren't true losses yet. As long as you own your holdings, they will fluctuate higher and lower day to day.

They technically only count as losses when you sell them, and what you ultimately care about is how they grow over time. If you had $10,000 invested in large-cap stocks at the beginning of 2008, you would've seen your account value decrease to $6,300 by the end of the year.

Selling your investment would've locked in that loss of $3,700. If you held out though, you would've seen your account value rise to $7,967 by the end of 2009. In 2010, you would've had $9,360, and by 2011, you would've regained your initial investment and your accounts would be worth $10,858. 

Consider buying more shares

If you'd invested in the S&P 500 on Jan. 2, 2020, by Dec. 31, 2020, you would've had a gain of 18.4%. But if you'd invested money on March 23, 2020, when this index hit its low for the year due to COVID-19 concerns, you would've had a 90% return by year end. 

That's why you should think about buying more shares of your highest conviction investments during a period of declining prices. You hear that you should be buying low and selling high, but when a bull market happens and prices are constantly appreciating, this becomes a lot harder.

When prices do fall because of a stock market crash, if you have excess cash that you can invest or are implementing a dollar-cost averaging strategy, you get a unique opportunity to buy your securities at discounted prices. 

Chances are you'll experience a stock market crash more than once in your lifetime as an investor. And because you have no way of knowing exactly when one could occur, making sure you've thought through your strategy and learned ways that you can benefit from one will help you better weather the storm when it does finally happen.

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