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If you're dismayed by the impending arrival of a President Trump, you may be tempted to vote a second time in the next few days -- with your portfolio.
Indeed, as uncertainty over the results deepened Tuesday night before Trump was eventually named the victor, investors sent S&P 500 futures plunging more than 4% -- although by early Wednesday afternoon, both the Dow and the S&P were actually trading up. Several times in the weeks leading up to the election, investors appeared to be buying, or selling, stocks and bonds in response to shifts in the race's expected outcome.
But no matter how convinced you are that the nation has just embarked on a historic mistake, take a deep breath. Remember that our collective prosperity has already weathered depressions, wars, runaway inflation and -- just eight years ago -- the near-collapse of the financial system. Usually, the worst thing investors can do in one of these scenarios is to act rashly, when their emotions are still running high.
"You never want to make an emotional decision, especially when it comes to your money," says Staten Island, N.Y., financial planner Allan Katz.
With that in mind, here are three smart things you can do now to your investment portfolio.
It's no surprise that stock markets seemed poised to react violently to Trump's upset win. The VIX, a volatility measure known as Wall Street's "fear gauge," had climbed almost 40% over the past two weeks. But even if there are some near-term ups and downs, your job is to look at the long run.
Here the evidence is much more reassuring. The balance of academic research suggests that when returns are measured in years or decades -- the kind of time horizon most investors should be focused on -- it doesn't matter much who occupies the oval office. Indeed, since World War II, stocks have ended up higher under every president except Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. One study, which looked at stock market returns going all the way back to the administration of Franklin Pierce -- before the Civil War -- found markets returned an average of 11%, no matter which party was in power.
In other words: Even if your worst fears really do prove true, and the new president is in fact the worst we've had in 150 years, the health of the American economy has shown itself to be generally impervious to even the most incompetent meddling. Your best bet is to wait four years and hope the rest of the country comes around to your point of view.
Do What You Already Should Have
While it's never smart to alter your investment portfolio in response to political or business headlines, if Tuesday's results really make you fear for your savings, then perhaps you don't have the right mix of investments for your temperament. Your goal in saving for retirement should be to build a long-term portfolio of stocks and bonds that can withstand a lot more than a frustrating election result.
Were you also tempted to sell when stocks dropped about 13% earlier this spring? How about the even bigger 19% slide during late summer 2011? If the stock market regularly gives you heartburn, it may mean that your investments have been too aggressive all along.
Even so, the best way to accomplish this isn't to dump all your risky stocks right now. Instead, aim to accomplish the goal over a reasonable period of time -- a year, perhaps. Let's say that you've saved $200,000 so far, investing 75% in stocks and 25% in bonds. You can dial that back to 70%/30% over the course of 12 months just by directing $10,000 of new contributions into bond funds.
An even better idea: Turn today's fear into resolve by boosting your savings rate. "The best thing you can do is to save more," says LaKhaun McKinley, a financial planner in Grand Rapids, Mich. That will improve your chances of a secure retirement -- no matter what happens in Washington, or how the market reacts.
Revisit Your Financial Plan
While trying to anticipate the next president's impact on the economy and the market can backfire, it is worth knowing something about proposed policies that could impact you directly. The centerpiece of Trump's economic plan has been a big tax cut -- nearly $6 trillion over 10 years.
To be sure, critics have pointed out that some of the biggest benefits flow to the very wealthy, especially since Trump has focused on reducing the rates for business owners. But a number of the tax breaks he's proposed are aimed at middle- and upper-middle-class investors. For instance, his plan to repeal Obamacare would also eliminate the 3.8% surcharge on investment income currently owed by singles making more than $200,000 ($250,000 for couples) -- letting many well-to-do but not fabulously rich investors keep a bigger share of their investment profits.
Investors across the income spectrum might also benefit from his proposal to create "Dependent Care Savings Accounts" -- new tax-advantaged accounts that act a bit like health savings accounts, but are designed to help parents cope with paying for small children or other dependents, rather than for healthcare. You would be able to contribute up to $1,000 a year tax free. (Low-income families would also get an annual $500 match.) Balances could also be accumulated and spent tax free on childcare, secondary-school tuition, nursing home care or other eligible expenses.