Checked your 401K lately? Going back to about a year ago many of these retirement accounts have shrunk by 30%, some even more. What Happened?

You have been putting money in for years and your employer may have been contributing to your plan also. It is not supposed to get smaller. You are planning to spend that money some time in the future when you decide to quit working. Along with your Social Security payments you should be able to maintain your current lifestyle. But not if your 401K and IRA keep going down and down.

The is no shortage of bad news when mutual funds such as Fidelity Magellan is off more than 30% and Janus 20 is down 63% and I could go on and on. Now you have a sharp pain in your stomach when you read your statement and when you call your broker he gives you the old song and dance about being in there “for the long haul, don’t sell”. It is not his money.

If you have your 401K with your employer who has a “professional manager” please don’t blame the boss. He is at the mercy of that “professional” too who is slowly having you all go broke. These money manglers are taught the three great myths of Wall Street – Do Research, Buy and Hold, Dollar Cost Average. These doctrines have been promoted for so many years that they have become conventional wisdom. You don’t need anyone to tell you they do not work. All you have to do is examine the results.

Buy and Hold is the greatest killer of profits. I know. Almost every broker will never tell you to sell when your stock or mutual funds starts declining yet every professional trader will have that as his first rule: have an exit strategy when your investment starts to either lose money or take away profits you have made. If you had been an owner of Janus 20 when it went from 40 to 94 and had a planned exit strategy you would have sold out near 80 to protect your profit. Now it is trading about 35 and after 2 years you have a loss instead of doubling (and keeping) your money.

How can you protect yourself against this type of loss? Don’t rely on your broker or financial planner. They have too many clients to be able to watch your money. I said your money. You are the only one who cares. And if you don’t want to take an interest in protecting it then you will be eating dog food instead of steak at age 65.

As the mutual funds go up in your 401K or IRA you must take a few minutes once each week or at least once each month to check the price. As you saw the $40 fund advance you set a mental stop-loss value of from 7% to 15% and when it goes down to that price you must immediately transfer those funds either to a different fund that is still advancing or to a Money Market account. It is that simple and there is nothing complicated about it.

If you don’t protect your retirement account no one else will. Start today.

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