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How to Start Investing

Key takeaways
  • First, think about how long you plan to stay invested, your financial needs, and how much risk—or changes in portfolio value—you can tolerate.
  • Consider how much of your investment mix should be in different asset classes (such as stocks, bonds, and short-term investments) that offer the return potential to help you meet your goals with a level of risk you can live with.
  • Finally, pick a diversified mix of investments.

Here’s a common problem: You want to start investing but you’re faced with so many options. It can be overwhelming.

But it doesn’t have to be. You can build your portfolio methodically just like many professionals do—starting with asset allocation.

Asset allocation refers to the way you spread your investing dollars across asset classes—such as stocks (US and foreign), bonds, and short-term investments (such as money market funds)—based on your time frame, risk tolerance, and financial situation. (Those three aren’t the only asset classes—for example, real estate and commodities are generally considered distinct from the basic three listed here.)

Studies have shown that the way you divide your portfolio across multiple asset classes such as stocks, bonds, and short-term investments can have a tremendous influence over your long-term returns—and that’s before you’ve even begun choosing your investments.

If it seems like too much, you don't have to build your own investment mix to reach your goals. For some RPB plan participants, it may be easier to turn to one of our Tier 1 target allocation funds to meet their financial goals. Read this article to learn more.

Why stocks? Growth potential

Stocks have historically provided higher returns than less volatile asset classes, and those higher potential returns may be necessary for you to meet your goals. But keep in mind that there may be a lot of ups and downs and there is a generally higher risk of loss in stocks than in investments like bonds. Over the short term, the stock market is unpredictable, but over the long term, it has historically trended up.

Why bonds? Diversification and income

Bonds can provide a steady stream of income by paying interest over a set period (as long as the issuer can keep making payments). There’s a spectrum of risk and return between lower-risk bonds and those that are riskier.

The credit risk of the bond issuer determines how much interest the bond may pay. Bonds issued by the US government pay a relatively low rate of interest but have the lowest possible risk of default. Corporate bonds typically pay a higher interest rate than Treasury securities of similar maturity. On corporate bonds, interest rates (yields) vary as a reflection of the creditworthiness of the bond issuer.

Because bonds have different risks and returns than stocks, owning a mix of stocks and bonds helps diversify your investment portfolio, and mitigate its overall volatility. Adding different types of investments to your mix with varying levels of risk and potential return can potentially help your investment mix weather different types of market environments and help smooth out the ups and downs of your overall portfolio.

It's important to understand that diversification and asset allocation do not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss—but they may help you reach your investment goals while taking on the least amount of risk required to do so.

Why short-term investments? Stability and diversification

For long-term goals, short-term investments, like the Tier 2 RPB Capital Preservation Fund, are typically only a small portion of an overall investment mix. They generally pay a minimal rate of return but can offer stability and diversification.

Asset allocation and diversification

After you’ve decided on the broad strokes for your investment mix, it’s time to fill in the blanks with some investments. While there are a lot of ways to do this, the main consideration is making sure you are diversified both across and within asset classes.

Diversification can reduce the overall risk in your portfolio and may increase your expected return for that level of risk. For instance, if you invested all your money in just one concentrated stock fund, that would be very risky because the stock markets could go through a rocky period. Investing in several different funds, reduces the risks that come with putting all your eggs in one basket.

A key concept in diversification is correlation. Investments that are perfectly correlated would rise or fall at the same time. If your investments are going up and down at different times, the investments that do well may dampen the impact of the investments that exhibit poor performance.

The RPB Plan offers three tiers of investments. Tier 1 is our target allocation funds that have diversification built-in. Tier 2 consists of single asset class funds so you can build your own diversified portfolio. And our Tier 3 social responsibility stock fund can complement either your Tier 1 or Tier 2 fund selections.

Commit to an ongoing balancing act

Asset allocation is not a set-it-and-forget-it exercise. You want to revisit it periodically—at least once a year—or if your goals, investment horizon, or financial situation changes.

Another reason it’s important to revisit your investment mix is to evaluate the need for rebalancing. Your investment mix may change over time as some investments do well and grow while others may shrink. Getting your asset allocation back on track is known as rebalancing.

Be sure to set your RPB account(s) to automatically rebalance periodically (e.g., quarterly). You do this by logging in to the MyRPB for Participants web portal from our home page:

  • Select 'Manage Investments'
  • Click 'Change Investments'
  • Click 'Exchange Multiple Investments'
  • Then click 'Go to Rebalance'

Investing can be confusing but it doesn’t have to be. With the roadmap provided by a basic asset allocation plan, you might find that planning your investments isn’t so complicated after all.

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