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Ask a Fool: My 401(k) Is Down -- Should I Wait to Roll It Over?

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® - Jun 7, 2019 at 12:00PM

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Don't pay too much attention to recent performance when it comes to long-term investing.

Q: I want to roll over my old 401(k), but just got my statement and my account is down 5%. Should I wait for it to rebound, or does this not really matter?

The short answer is: Go ahead and roll it over anyway.

For a bit more color, there are two key points to keep in mind. First, by the time your statement arrives, the market value of your 401(k) could be quite different. As a personal example, by the time I got my year-end 2018 statement from my old 401(k), the account was worth 10% more than the statement showed, thanks to the stock market's rally early in 2019.

So the first thing I would suggest is to get a current value. The easiest way to do this is to log in to your 401(k) provider's web portal.

The second point is that as long as you plan to immediately reinvest the money, which is typically the case with 401(k) rollovers, your account's performance isn't too important.

Think of it this way: If your 401(k) is down by 5%, the new investments you'll roll it into are also likely to be down by a similar amount. In other words, you're trading one discounted group of assets for another.

As a final thought, keep in mind that your 401(k) is a long-term investing vehicle. If you're looking at a time horizon of a decade or longer until you need the money, the effects of any short-term market moves are likely to be negligible. So if you planned to roll your 401(k) over, a 5% drop shouldn't stop you from doing just that.

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