How to Choose the Best Investments for Your 401k Plan

2. Your Retirement Time Frame

The time between today and the day you want to retire is a major consideration when selecting the best investment plan. Simply stated, you can afford to take more risks when you have more time. Most investments are volatile over the short term – initially their prices rise and fall based on investor psychology, rather than actual financial results. As time passes, actual results replace psychology, so that prices reflect the company’s ability to consistently deliver profits. Potential becomes reality.

As an example, the stock price of Apple closed on February 15, 2013 at $442.80 per share; one year later (February 14, 2014), it closed at $543.99 per share. Had you purchased the stock on February 15, 2013 and sold it on February 14, 2014, you would have earned $101.19 per share, or 22.8% on your investment. During the year, however, the stock price varied from $385.10 per share (April 19, 2013) to $575.14 (December 5, 2013). In other words, you could have lost as much as 13%, or gained as much as 29.8%, had you sold your stock prior to the end of the year.

When looking at long-term trends, Apple is an excellent example of continued growth. Apple has demonstrated the quality of its management for years, and early investors are now reaping the rewards. For instance, Apple stock  in 2009 topped out at $213.95, and Apple stock in 2004 topped out at $34.40. Someone who purchased Apple stock in 2004 for roughly $34 a share, and sold on February 14, 2014 for $544 a share, would earn a 1,600% return on their initial investment. This proves the benefit of time when considering risk and reward.

Unfortunately, as your retirement age nears and your investment horizon shortens, you lose the security that good company management results in an increased stock price. Even if you need to reduce your investment target, it’s wise to choose more secure investments, curbing volatility by exchanging potential for certainty. While a 30-year-old can invest aggressively, having 35 years or more to make up for mistakes, a 60-year-old doesn’t have that luxury since time isn’t on his or her side.

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