One of the best ways to build wealth over time and meet your long-term financial goals is to create an investing plan using asset allocation â and stick with it.
At some point, though, market conditions can lead to your portfolio moving away from your planned allocation. When that happens, a portfolio rebalance is in order.
In many cases, a portfolio contains a mix of assets to help you diversify while still allowing you to reach your goals.
âWhen we lay out a portfolio allocation, itâs because we understand the potential risk and return, and how to align it with client goals,â said Eric Roberge, a CFP and founder of financial education website Beyond Your Hammock. âOver time, though, an asset class can go up or down, doing well or underperforming. That can cause the portfolio to go out of balance.â
If one asset class is doing well, it starts to take up a more significant portion of your portfolioâs value, while a worse-performing asset will take up a smaller slice of the pie. If stocks are doing well, bonds and REITs are underperforming, the idea is to sell the stocks and then buy the assets that arenât doing as well. You take the excess profits and purchase other assets at a lower price.
âThe idea is that youâre forced to do what youâre supposed to be doing anyway,â said Roberge. âYou sell high and then buy something else low.â
Roberge said that itâs a good idea to maintain the asset mix you decided on since it can help you continue working toward your goals while still protecting you to some degree.
Rebalancing your portfolio isnât something you should do all the time, said Roberge. While you want to maintain your general asset allocation, he points out that markets change regularly enough that you donât want to respond to every move.
Here are five times to consider a portfolio rebalance.
It can be tempting to let your portfolio grow at a fast pace, especially if you see a huge outperformance somewhere. However, Roberge pointed out, when one assetâs value starts overshadowing the rest of the portfolio, there is a chance for devastation when things take a different turn.
âYour portfolio allocation was chosen to help diversify and protect your portfolio while helping you reach your goals,â according to Roberge. âIf profits are high in one area, itâs a good time to take those profits and then buy something else that is undervalued.â
Eventually, the asset class will run into a rough patch, and if youâre over-invested in it, you could lose all your recent gains without portfolio rebalancing.
âPerhaps you had a goal for withdrawing some of your money for 20 years out, but you realize you need some of the money in seven years,â said Roberge. âWhen you tweak your goals, it makes sense to look at your portfolio and perhaps rebalance.â
Portfolio allocation involves understanding that some assets are better-suited for long-term goals and others might work better for short-term goals. For example, when you know you wonât need the money for more than 20 years, stocks make sense. However, if you need money immediately, having enough of your portfolio in cash is vital.
As your use for the money changes, you might need to change your allocation to reflect better when the money will be used.
Another reason for a portfolio rebalance is if youâre experiencing a major life event.
âA marriage or divorce can change your financial goals and money use,â said Roberge. âAdditionally, if you have a child, you might tweak your portfolio to reflect an interest in saving for college.â
The main life event that often prompts portfolio rebalancing is retirement. As you approach retirement, Roberge pointed out, you start changing your allocation to reflect a need for fixed income rather than growth.
However, even in retirement, it makes sense to continue keeping a portion of your portfolio in stocks to take advantage of continued growth. âItâs important to keep your goals in mind and think of the end result â make sure your allocation is working for you.â
If you can move some of your portfolio into more tax-efficient assets, it can make sense to rebalance. For example, if you sold some outperformers earlier in the year and had large profits, you can offset some of the gains by selling some underperforming assets for a loss. The losses can offset your gains, allowing you to save money in taxes.
Roberge warned that you need to understand where various parts of your portfolio are housed. âSomething in a tax-advantaged retirement account isnât going to do much to help you with taxes because you donât have to worry about the assets inside the account,â he said. âKnow which assets, like those with already-favorable status, should be in a taxable account and which should be in a tax-advantaged account.â
Roberge said that an annual check-in with your overall portfolio makes sense. He suggested scheduling the review for the end of the year so you can use tax-loss harvesting as part of your strategy if it makes sense.
âLooking at things regularly can give you a feel for whatâs happening, and help you make changes without overdoing it,â Roberge said.
There are always costs associated with investing and rebalancing. First of all, youâre likely to pay a management fee, no matter where you keep your money, so keep that in mind.
When it comes to the actual costs of a portfolio rebalance, Roberge said youâre likely to see two main expenses:
Even with the costs, though, it can be worth it to rebalance your portfolio in a way that keeps it in line with your goals and financial needs.
Rebalancing your portfolio can be a good strategy to help you maintain your portfolio and stay on track with your goals. However, said Roberge, itâs important to avoid getting too caught up in changing things. âDonât try to do it at exactly the right time. Thatâs more like market timing, and it can get costly.â
Instead, he recommended rebalancing once a year, toward the end. âIn early December, see if things are out of line and rebalance if needed,â he suggested. âThen, you can just set it and forget it for another year.â