Managing retirement savings in down markets

6. Limit company stock exposure 

You already have your human capital invested at work. Be careful about doubling down and investing too much of your financial capital at work, too. If the matching contribution made by the company is in company stock, investigate your options in managing that exposure in your retirement account. Financial advisers commonly recommend that you hold no more than 10 percent to 15 percent of your retirement monies in company stock.

7. Don't dip into retirement accounts 

Refrain from borrowing against your retirement accounts. If you get laid off from your job, most plans require that a 401(k) or 403(b) loan immediately comes due. If it's not repaid then it is classified as a distribution and is taxable. You may also owe the 10 percent penalty tax on an early distribution.

Likewise, unless you're up against it, don't cash in your retirement accounts after a layoff. The distribution is taxable as ordinary income and you may owe a 10 percent penalty tax, as well. Try to keep this money working for you toward your retirement goal and don't let Uncle Sam get the money early.

8. Re-characterize Roth IRA conversions 

If you converted a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2008 only to see the account decline in value in the 2008 tax year, you should to work with your tax adviser to determine if it makes financial sense to re-characterize the account as a traditional IRA. You want to look into this because the taxes due on the conversion are based on valuations on the conversion date.

Why pay income tax on losses? You can look at reconverting in 2009. IRS Publication 590, "Individual Retirement Arrangements" has all the details, but avoid the temptation to do it yourself.

9. Get professional help 

A professional financial adviser can help you understand what's going on in the markets and how the market sell-off may present opportunities for future growth.

No one knows for sure where the market is heading. You shouldn't look for guarantees, but a financial planner can help you manage the risk you face in your portfolio while helping you to identify and work toward your life goals -- including and especially retirement.

Use Bankrate's CFP search tool to find a financial planner in your area.

Whether you're wet-behind-the-ears or a seasoned investor, see Bankrate's age-specific investment advice on how to deal with volatile markets.


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