Q Subject: Roth IRA. I am 50 years old and having a hard time paying all my bills every month. I spoke with an investment adviser and my $4,000 is now $3,000. I certainly could use that money instead of losing that money. Should I withdraw it now or wait a month? I have other retirement through work. I just don't want to lose any more of that little amount, which is quite large to me.


A About a month or so ago, I had a conversation with John Bogle, the octogenarian founder of the mutual fund giant, Vanguard. Bogle is a terrific advocate for the individual investor. He's extremely knowledgeable about the history of markets and the risks of investing. Something he said during our conversation echoes with your question. We were talking about diversification, the outlook for stocks and bonds and commodities, and other bedrock financial issues when he made the point that the closer you are to the financial edge, the more you have to take actions that aren't good investing strategies. They're survival strategies.

We're all getting our year-end statements, and many people are dismayed at the drop in their retirement portfolios. Ouch. Still, these are mostly "paper losses." For many folks years from retirement -- and you have at least 10 years and probably more -- the sound investment strategy is to stay the course. Those folks may want to change their asset allocations with new money or make minor adjustments to their portfolios. Still, it's best to keep retirement savings in a tax-sheltered savings account such as a Roth. But you'll have to wait much longer than a month for your savings to grow.

You're having trouble paying the bills. You're dealing with rising financial pressures. And you do have a retirement savings plan at work. In that case, it may make sense for you to tap into the Roth. One big advantage of the Roth is that in a pinch you can withdraw your Roth contributions without paying a penalty or taxes to Uncle Sam. Just try to leave the investment returns alone -- assuming you have any -- since you will pay taxes and penalty on that portion of the withdrawal.

Chris Farrell is economics editor for American Pub- lic Media's "Marketplace Money." Send questions to, or to kaching@startribune .com. Put "Your Money" in the subject line.