10 Keys to Staying Financially Level-Headed in 2020
November 12, 2020 | By Michael Goodman, CPA/PFS, CFP®
Last month, we were joined by our friend and guest, CBS News Business Analyst Jill Schlesinger, for a webinar focused on your questions about the pandemic and what it means for your financial plans going forward. We covered everything from financial news and the stock market to college tuition and the upcoming presidential election. If you missed the webinar, here are 10 takeaways:
1. Be selective in your financial news sources
Many news channels can miss a lot of the bigger picture, not to mention stir up anxiety as we fixate on them throughout the day. There’s a lot of nuance when it comes to financial news, and nuance is hard to get across in the 90-second sound bites that accompany news segments on TV, radio, and even social media. To really learn the big picture and see what’s going on with the economy, seek out print news publications and diversify your sources.
2. Look for the source material
In addition to reading news in print, it’s important to find a source that gives you the information you’re looking for without creating anxiety. If you really want to dive deep into a topic, seek out the source material.
For example, when new unemployment data are released, media outlets will highlight select pieces of information to create the most compelling stories they can. By visiting the site for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) and reviewing their Economic Releases, you will get the complete details without the editorializing.
Reading that source without getting the spin is a great way to stay informed and rise above the hysteria.
3. Stay the course
Be confident in your financial strategy. As we saw earlier in the pandemic, markets can rebound surprisingly quickly. With cash reserves and a diversified portfolio, you’ll be well-positioned to weather the inevitable financial storms and market corrections. Consider your time horizon and remain steadfast in your financial strategy.
4. Be opportunistic
While staying the course is always a top priority, it’s okay to be opportunistic too. There’s no way to know for sure when the markets will bounce back from a correction. But if you have cash on the sidelines and you’re feeling bold enough, corrections can be a great time to put more cash in the market. Additionally, having the courage to rebalance on the ups and downs can be rewarding over time. Taking tax losses when the market is down is also a great way to take advantage of a temporary market decline.
5. The stock market is not the economy
The stock market is a bet on companies’ ability to make money in the future. As counterintuitive as it might seem, in the midst of millions of Americans suddenly collecting unemployment, some companies will still make a lot of money and the stock market can (and has) gone up. The stock market’s indication of what people think will happen with the economy can widely differ from what’s actually happening.
6. The government’s going to address its deficit
It’s most likely going to happen in the form of taxes. The economy will come back and more money will be in the system, but at the end of the day an increase in taxes is going to be a primary element of the government’s response to the deficit. This isn’t even a political concept—it’s a reality.
7. Now’s the time for more aggressive tax planning
Even with no new legislative action, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will expire in 2026, bringing tax rates back up to their 2017 numbers. Taxes could go up as soon as 2021, but the reality is we can never know for sure. The important thing is finding a way to optimize your taxes this year.
8. College costs may go down in the future—or they may not
The pandemic has made many Americans question the true value of college. What’s the ROI on a four-year degree? Are we paying for the education, or the college experience? And with so many students shifting to remote learning, there’s a notion that costs might go down. On the other hand, colleges have been losing a lot of money, losses they’ll have to recoup in the future. Some colleges will likely fail. The bottom line is, it does not seem like the cost of higher education will go down in the near term.
9. We still have a bumpy road ahead
We’re not quite out of the woods. The virus is still out there. The economy is still struggling. Even without the pandemic, there’s more real-time information available than ever before and there’s likely to be more market volatility ahead. That’s why it’s critical to have a strong cash reserve and make sure you understand your time horizon for your investments.
10. Election results don’t affect markets (much)
There’s a lot of data on past administrations and the reaction in the stock markets. It’s really not as big a factor in the performance of stocks over time as people think it is. There will always be the propensity for short term volatility around elections. In the long run, regardless of what party is in the White House, markets generally go up more than they go down.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, next month, or next year. It’s okay to feel some anxiety. Everything comes back to one fundamental question: Do you have a plan? The basic elements of financial planning are critical, whether we’re in uneventful times or a tumultuous year like 2020.