Should I sell or stay the course? Am I taking too much risk? Those are questions that many stock market investors have been asking themselves for months. The answers, financial advisers say, can be found in an investment policy statement.
Originating from the world of foundations, endowments and pension plans, an investment policy statement is essentially a road map for your money.
"It's a grounding document that helps establish some discipline," said Nate Wenner, president of the Financial Planning Association of Minnesota.
Bloomington-based CPA and Raymond James financial adviser Laura Kuntz describes it as "an expectation-setting document."
It's a document you can hang onto for dear life on a bad day, instead of picking up the phone and yelling "sell" during an emotional moment. It also serves as a reminder that your focus should be on your own investment strategy, not your neighbor's.
An investment policy statement varies from person to person. It can be just a couple of sentences that a 401(k) investor can pull out in turbulent times "to help engage the rational-based part of the mind," said Kay Kramer, a certified financial planner with KLB Financial in Edina.
Or it can be a multipage document; advisers say that most investment policy statements include the following questions:
•What are your goals for the money? Quite simply, what's the purpose of the money you're saving? Some investors lose sight of the actual goal, focusing on maximizing return instead. Because of this mentality, Kuntz thinks many investors, particularly those in or near retirement, have been taking on too much risk.
Speaking of risk, how much can you stomach? Now that clients know how it feels to take a lot of risk and lose a lot of money, they are realizing they can't handle as much of it as they envisioned, said Kramer. "Ten percent down means something different than losing $100,000," she said.
•What is your time horizon? Is this money for retiring in five years? For sending a kid to college in 10 years? For retirement three decades down the road? Short-term money should not be invested in stocks -- a realization many parents with college 529 plans are having, Kuntz said.
•What are your liquidity needs? Or, as Kramer asked, "How much do you want to keep absolutely safe?" The amount will vary depending on whether you're in or near retirement, or whether you have other assets to fall back on in a downturn.
•What is your tax strategy? The right investment vehicle may vary depending on whether you're in a high or low tax bracket, for example.
•What is your asset allocation, target percentages for those investments, and re- balancing plan? Laying out how much you want in equities of all flavors, as well as fixed-income, will help investors avoid constant fiddling.
In addition, Wenner, a certified financial planner with Wipfli Hewins Investment Advisors, said his document lays out mutual-fund selection criteria and guidelines for comparing the pieces of a portfolio to its benchmarks. Kuntz thinks an investment policy statement isn't complete without laying out historical rates of return along with historical volatility.
If you're a socially responsible investor who wants to stay away from particular categories of companies, for example, writing down those guidelines in an investment policy statement makes sense, too.
The document can also include criteria for implementing certain strategies at certain times, such as when the market declines a certain amount, or a person's health changes.
Overwhelmed? Kuntz suggests finding an adviser who will meet with you on an hourly basis to put a statement together. She figures it's worth spending some money for an investment policy statement, considering that your fortune's on the line.
If you have an adviser but not an investment policy statement, I'd ask "why?"
Advisers suggest taking a peek at your statement at least every year. Wenner says now's actually a great time to create a statement, or dust off your old one because "people have learned a lot about themselves in this market," he said.
What's your investment policy statement like? Tell Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.