Making money isn't easy, but losing it certainly is if you aren't smart with your cash.
There are dozens of potential investment opportunities for consumers to choose from, but the truth is that most don't offer a rate of return that will allow you to retire the way the you want. Many won't even outpace the inflation rate, meaning you wind up losing real money over the long run. And, of course, with market volatility on the rise, investors have to be particularly careful not to let their emotions outweigh their better judgment when it comes to investing their money.
With that said, let's have a look at five of the worst things you can do with your money right now.
1. Invest too conservatively
Possibly the biggest mistake investors make is buying into extremely safe investment vehicles in order to preserve their principal. This isn't to say there isn't a place for bank CDs, bonds, and interest-bearing checking accounts, but right now is not the time take advantage of these tools.
At the moment, the average bank CD will probably net you a return of 1% annually or less. Bonds aren't doing much better, with a 10-year U.S. Treasury bond yielding just over 2%. Interest-bearing checking accounts are even more abysmal, with Bankrate recently noting that the average interest-bearing checking account yields a meager 0.4% (an all-time low), while the average amount of cash needed in the account to avoid a monthly fee rose 7% year over year to a whopping $6,211. With the inflation rate running around 2% at the moment, none of these investment tools are delivering a positive real-money return.
2. Buy an annuity
Consumers love the possibility of being given a regular cash disbursement for the remainder of their lives, which is often why they turn to annuities. An annuity is merely a consumer investment product offered by insurance companies that can give either regular fixed-income payouts (a fixed annuity) or variable payouts that are based on the performance of the underlying investments in the annuity (variable annuity). The payouts continue over a set number of years or a person's life.
The problem with annuities is twofold. First, annuities can invest in fixed-income securities that simply won't keep up with the inflation rate in select economic environments, causing the annuity holder to actually lose money in real terms.
The second and bigger problem is that annuities often come with hefty commission fees and annual maintenance fees, which is why insurance companies push these products so aggressively on consumers. In many instances, consumers would be better off purchasing mutual funds or other types of investments in their tax-advantaged retirement accounts, which would likely net them more money in the end, given the annually accruing fees of annuities.
3. Chase high-yielding dividends
Dividend stocks are great, and they're often the cornerstone of a retirement portfolio. However, chasing a stock simply because it has a high yield without digging below the surface is a no-no that could come back to haunt investors.
For starters, a stock's dividend can rise if its share price is falling. A 5% yield that suddenly becomes a 10% yield might appear attractive to investors, but understanding why a stock has lost half of its value is far more important.
Additionally, double-digit dividend yields are pretty rare, so if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Investors have to be able to dig below the surface to find out whether both the dividend payout and the business model are sustainable. The dividend payout ratio is a good place to start, but the only way to truly know whether a high-yield dividend is sustainable is to fully understand a company's business model, including its opportunities and risks.
4. Trade for pennies
A volatile market can certainly make life seem more fulfilling for active traders, but taking that opportunity to scalp pennies on the dollar with short-term trades could leave you disappointed over the long run.
The problem with short-term trading is that accurately predicting market movements isn't possible over the long run, so you would eventually miss out on of some of the greatest gains the market has to offer. Based on a study by JPMorgan Asset Management using 20-year S&P 500 data from Lipper, an individual who remained invested from Dec. 31, 1993 through Dec. 31, 2013 would have seen a return of 483%. If that individual missed the 10 biggest daily gains of the S&P 500 over the course of those 20 years, they'd have seen their investment return shrink from 483% to 191%. If you missed the 30 best days, your gain would be a minuscule 20%.
The point here is simple: It doesn't pay to try to time the market. Stick to your long-term focus regardless of whether the market is volatile or not.
5. Put others before yourself
Lastly, you have to remember that you have ultimate control over the comfort of your retirement, and you simply can't compromise your retirement by helping others financially. There's nothing wrong with helping out your friends and family when they're making a big purchase like a home or trying to get out of debt, but it only makes sense if you have the financial capacity to do so.
Remember: You can take a loan out for college and pay that loan off throughout your lifetime, but you can't take a loan out against your retirement.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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