Investing for Retirement: Tips and Options to Consider

By Dan Miller · August 25, 2023 · 10 minute read

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Investing for Retirement: Tips and Options to Consider

Saving steadily for retirement is important, but how you invest that money also matters. Fortunately, today’s retirement saver has a number of options to consider — many of which can make the task of investing for the future less daunting.

These days, you can choose from DIY investing options like a portfolio of stocks and bonds or other securities you choose yourself. You can also invest in mutual funds or exchange-traded funds to help lower costs and add diversification. There are also certain types of pre-set retirement funds and automated platforms (i.e. robo advisors) that use technology to help manage your portfolio.

If you’re saving for retirement, it helps to understand the options that best suit your goals and your personality so that you’re more likely to stick with a plan for the long term.

This article is part of SoFi’s Retirement Planning Guide, our coverage of all the steps you need to create a successful retirement plan.


money management guide for beginners

The Importance of Investing for Retirement

Retirement may be a long way off or a short way down the road, depending on your age and stage of life. Either way, developing an investment strategy that can help your savings to grow is essential. For many people, retirement might last 10, 20, 30 years — or even more. A solid long-term investment strategy can help you build up the amount you need for those years where you’re no longer in the workforce.

Remember that the longer your money is invested, the more time you have for potential gains to compound and help your money grow. Compounding simply means that if your money potentially sees a return, or a profit from various investments, that growth can compound over time, with both your savings and your earnings seeing gains.

Time can also help with losses. The longer your time horizon, the more volatility or risk it may be safe for you to assume. If you have a time horizon of 30 or 40 years before you retire, you can probably afford to weather some short-term losses, knowing that your investment returns will likely balance themselves out over time.

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Understanding Retirement Accounts

While this article will focus on investment options, it’s worth a reminder that the type of retirement account you choose is also important. You may have a workplace retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b). You may have opened an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA), like a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, or a SEP IRA.

Different accounts have different contribution limits, and different tax implications. Since both the amount you can save and how it will be taxed can have a long-term impact on your nest egg, be sure to spend time strategizing about which types of accounts make the most sense for you.

With a suitable combination of accounts, you can then begin to choose the investments that will populate that account.

Remember: Just because you open an IRA or set up your 401(k) at work doesn’t mean it comes with any investments. Like moving into a new home, it’s up to you to furnish the account.

Recommended: 401(k) vs IRA: What’s the Difference?

Investment Options

While investing for retirement can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Again, there are various retirement strategies that have stood the test of time, as well as a number of investment options that can make a retirement saver’s life easier.

Here are a few options for retirement investing that you can consider:

DIY Investing

For investors who feel confident in managing their own retirement portfolio, and the securities within it, taking a DIY approach is an option.

You can purchase stocks, bonds, commodities, mutual funds, or any other types of securities for your long-term portfolio. While the term active investing brings to mind day traders, active investing can also mean taking a hands-on approach to managing your own portfolio.

This approach isn’t for everyone. It’s time and energy intensive, and it requires a certain amount of expertise in order to be successful. In addition, if you go this route, bear in mind that the same rules apply to all long-term investors.

•   Be mindful of the contribution limits and tax implications of the retirement account you choose.

•   Consider the cost of your investments, as fees can reduce your earnings over time.

•   Consider using a strategy that includes some diversification, as this may help mitigate certain risks over time.


💡 Quick Tip: Before opening any investment account, consider what level of risk you are comfortable with. If you’re not sure, start with more conservative investments, and then adjust your portfolio as you learn more.

Index Funds

Index funds offer a basic way to invest for retirement. An index fund is a type of fund that tracks a broad market index. One of the most popular types of index funds tracks the S&P 500 index, for example, which mirrors the performance of the 500 largest U.S. companies.

There are hundreds of indexes, and many have corresponding funds that track different sectors of the market, e.g.: smaller companies, technology companies; sustainable or green companies; various types of bonds, and more.

Index funds don’t rely on a live team of portfolio managers, so they tend to be less expensive than actively managed funds. However, they have a downside which is that your money is pegged to the securities in that sector.

Automated Options

In the world of investing there really isn’t a truly automated “set it and forget it” strategy that will work on its own, without any input, for decades. But there are some options that are more hands-off than others.

•   Target Date Funds

One such option is a target date fund. A target date fund is designed to be an all-inclusive portfolio option for people that are looking to retire on or near a certain date. For example, a 2050 target date fund is intended for people that will be ready for retirement in 2050.

Target date funds use a set of calculations to adjust the portfolio’s asset allocation over time. When a target date fund is decades away from the specified date, it might invest 80% in equities and 20% in fixed income or cash/cash equivalents. As the date draws nearer, it will automatically move more of its investments away from equities towards bonds, cash, or other investments with lower risk. This automatic readjustment is referred to as the glide path.

•   Robo Advisors

Another option is an automated portfolio, commonly known as a robo advisor (although these services are not robots, and don’t typically offer advice).

A robo advisor platform offers a questionnaire for investors to gauge their time horizon (i.e. years to retirement or another goal), their risk level, and so forth.

The platform then uses sophisticated technology to recommend a portfolio of low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

While these are two of the more hands-off options, and they do offer the convenience of managing a portfolio on your behalf, these options have some downsides. The cost can be higher than other types of investment options. And there is very little flexibility. Investors typically cannot adjust the securities in these funds (although there may be some hybrid options in the market).

Recommended: How Do Robo Advisors Work

Hire an Advisor

If you still are not feeling comfortable investing for retirement on your own, you may want to consider using a financial advisor. Talk with your trusted friends or family members to get a recommendation.

Because an advisor introduces a new level of cost, be sure to ask how the person is compensated. Some advisors charge a flat fee, or an hourly rate, or some earn commissions — or combinations of the above.

Tips When Investing for Retirement

As you start investing for retirement, here are a few things that you’ll want to keep in mind:

Ask About Fees

Many investments come with fees that are charged by the advisor or company that manages the investment. These investment fees may be explicitly charged to your account, or they may be captured as part of the investment’s returns. Make sure to check any fees that are charged before you invest. There are many low-cost mutual funds that offer investment fees under 0.1% as compared to a financial advisor who may charge 1% or more. Even a small difference in the fees charged can make a huge difference on your returns when compounded over decades.

Plan for Taxes

You’ll also want to account for how your retirement investments will be taxed.

•   Tax-Deferred Accounts

If you contribute to a traditional 401(k) or IRA, you may be eligible for a tax deduction in the tax year that you make the contribution (i.e. a contribution for tax year 2023 can be deducted on your 2023 taxes).

These accounts are called tax-deferred because you will owe taxes on your withdrawals.

•   After-Tax Accounts

If you contribute to a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA, you won’t get a tax deduction when you contribute — because you deposit after-tax dollars — instead, your withdrawals will be tax-free.

There are other differences between tax-deferred and after-tax accounts that can impact your nest egg. For example, once you reach the age of 73, you’re required to withdraw a minimum amount from a traditional IRA or 401(k) every year (also called RMDs or required minimum distributions). That doesn’t apply to Roth accounts.

•   Taxable Investment Accounts

On the other hand, if you invest for retirement in a non-retirement or taxable account, you will owe income taxes on your gains whenever you sell those securities, which will affect your portfolio’s overall performance.

How Often Should I Adjust My Investments?

It’s generally considered a good idea to periodically adjust your investments by rebalancing your portfolio. Portfolio rebalancing is a way to adjust the mix of your investments. It means realigning the assets of a portfolio’s holdings to match your desired asset allocation.

If you have a robo advisor or investment advisor, they likely have you set up with a specific target of different types of investments. Over time, the advisor will rebalance your portfolio to keep it in line with your target percentages.

If you’re managing your investments yourself, you might rebalance your portfolio monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the type of investments that you have.

The Takeaway

Investing for your retirement is one of the smartest things that you can do as part of an overall financial plan. While it may seem overwhelming, there are a few things that you can do to help streamline your investment plan.

Make sure that you understand the fees and taxes that come with different investment options. If you don’t feel comfortable managing your own portfolio, consider working with an advisor or investing in an automated portfolio.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.

FAQ

Can I invest for retirement if I have limited funds?

It is possible to invest for retirement if you have limited funds. In fact, if you have limited funds, that is one reason it’s even more important to invest for retirement. Especially if you are younger and have a long time before retirement, even a small amount can grow to be a sizable nest egg when its returns are compounded over many decades.

Should I adjust my investment strategy as I approach retirement?

How you choose to invest will depend on a number of factors, one of which is how close you are to retirement. One common strategy is to be more aggressive with your investment strategy when you are years or decades away from retirement. This can possibly lead to higher overall returns while you have a long time to smooth out the ups and downs of a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Then, as you get closer to retirement, you start to be more conservative with your investments in an attempt to better preserve capital.

What investment options are suitable for conservative investors?

Choosing your investment options will depend on your overall financial situation and tolerance for risk. Some examples of more conservative investments include bonds, cash, CDs, or Treasury bills. As you get closer to retirement, it can make sense to choose more conservative investments. You may give up some possible returns, but you may also be better insulated against large losses.


Photo credit: iStock/monkeybusinessimages

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