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How to Ride Out the Stock Market at Any Age

If you’ve been in the investing game for a while, you’ve likely heard the old adage about asset allocation: Take your age minus 100, and that number indicates the percentage of stocks you should have in your portfolio. If you’re 30, you should have 70% in stocks, and the remaining 30% in bonds. 

This may have worked decades ago, and it was one of the first formulas attempted when robo-advising got its start.   However, as with any general one-size-fits-all algorithm the industry creates, it ignores the most critical element of investing — control. Taxes are one of the few components the individual investor has some control over. That’s right, taxes. 

If you want to control a part of your portfolio’s returns, and you want to take a chance on a company that may become a big market mover of tomorrow, where you hold that stock in your portfolio becomes an important consideration. 

The answer to that question changes as you age, and must be adjusted as your net -worth and income fluctuate. While it may be a moving target, so are many variables in the world of financial planning. In my practice, I sit down with all of my clients and conduct annual one-on-one reviews. I call it the “What, Where, and How” conversation.  Over the years, I’ve found even though there may be aspects of financial planning some find tedious, when we find answers to their questions it is very rewarding.

There is no one-size-fits-all financial prescription. Each person, at every stage of life, has their own unique formula we uncover that works for them. Seeing your investments working as intended to help you reach your goals is very satisfying. 

Here’s a look at how to think about stocks as part of your portfolio, no matter how old you are. 

If you're in your 20s… 

If you followed the Reddit/GameStop saga of 2021, and want to be in on “the next big one” or if you dream about becoming the next Bitcoin Billionaire or Tesla-naire, Godspeed. If you don’t have an emergency fund, if you’re carrying a credit card balance, or you’re still renting, then it’s a totally different conversation. 

For everyone else, if your financial house is in order and you have money you’re eager to play in the Wall Street casino, while solid advice, “buy low, sell high,” has its limitations. Buying stocks you believe will soar and selling at their peak sounds ideal. Keep in mind this may mean you’re forced to sell at a time when you’re in a much higher income tax bracket. You don’t want to be encumbered by tax considerations if suddenly your favorite company’s biggest competition enters the market, and you’ve got to sell before it’s too late. If you’re bullish and in for the long haul, you can invest more heavily via your retirement account. Remember utilizing non-retirement assets is one way to cushion the pain of a loss, since you can deduct any losses from your ordinary income. 

If you’re in your 30s 40s or 50s… 

If you’re going to gamble on the next hot stock, tax implications should always be considered during these decades of life. Because it’s during these years you’ll be considering buying a home, paying for a child’s college, or helping out as your parents age. College is such a factor in financial planning these days, with many private school educations easily costing more than your home for a four-year degree. As you invest, keep eligibility for college loans and financial aid top of mind. For example, money in a brokerage account can reduce eligibility for college scholarships, but can be of the utmost necessity when buying a home. Meanwhile, wealth in a retirement account won’t hurt eligibility for financial aid, but it also won’t help when it comes time to qualify for a mortgage. 

If you’re approaching retirement… 

As we near the end of our working lives, our financial needs shift from growth to income and liquidity. Having liquid assets is necessary for many retirees who may be trying to qualify for a mortgage or retirement home. It’s no secret having too much of your income in high-flying companies (even those with a bright long-term future) comes with extreme short-term volatility, which could upend even the best laid retirement plans. At this age, taking a risk on future companies can still be part of the equation. However, I recommend my clients play with a separate bucket of money they can safely see not needing for 20 years or longer. I write about this topic in my book, The Ten Truths Of Wealth Creation. 

And for those lucky ones already retired… 

If you’ve got plenty of income and you’re only taking out your required minimum distributions (RMDs) each year, your answer is straightforward. In some cases, buying equities in an IRA account with high returns would require larger annual distributions. Also keep in mind, stocks sold could result in higher ordinary income taxes annually. Losses will simply be losses, which would remove the ability to reduce tax liability. To top it all off, all the gains will be taxable to your heirs in less than 10 years, thanks to the Secure Act. Buying stocks after-tax, outside of a retirement account, is one way to keep Uncle Sam from benefiting from your investment prowess, unless President Biden decides to eliminate the step-up in basis.  

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Roth IRAs and HSAs (health savings accounts), both of which work for all ages, because all the growth in these accounts is tax-free. Keep in mind HSAs are fully taxable to any non-spousal beneficiary in the year of death, and a Roth IRA still needs to be liquidated in less than a decade after death. I recommend setting aside time to make thoughtful and educated decisions about the beneficiary of your accounts as you both age. 

As you plan, try not to be intimidated by the moving targets, because there’s truly so much you can control, at any age.  


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