From the Editor


Keep It Simple, Investors

Janet Bodnar

When you understand an investment, you're more likely to feel comfortable taking the risk.



Investing just doesn’t seem like fun anymore. Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has turned in double-digit returns thus far this year, but investors aren’t jumping for joy. On the contrary, many are still sitting on the sidelines, if not shying away from stocks altogether. Investors are so spooked that they seem frozen in place, reports the BlackRock Barometer, a survey of investors and advisers. Despite the recent run-up in stocks, only one investor in ten is making portfolio adjustments, according to BlackRock. Even though people say they’re concerned about making their money last in retirement, they’d rather work longer and retire later than take more risk. Of those surveyed, 62% said they were optimistic about the market’s performance over the next six months, yet only 15% described the market as full of opportunity.

Meanwhile, TrimTabs Investment Research reports that in the first half of 2012, the most popular destination for investor cash was . . . cash. More than $350 billion poured into checking and savings accounts, compared with a net gain of only $6 billion for stock mutual funds and ETFs. “I don’t expect mom-and-pop investors to pile into equities anytime soon,” says TrimTabs CEO Charles Biderman.

The younger generation is particularly snakebit. In a recent MFS survey of investor sentiment, respondents were asked whether they agreed with the statement, “I will never feel comfortable investing in the stock market.” Among Generation Y investors, 37% agreed, compared with 29% of Gen X investors and 26% of baby-boomers. In fact, Gen Y investors have one-third of their investable assets in cash, more than any other category.

Ah-ha moments. A little less volatility might lift investors’ spirits, but I think they’d also feel more comfortable if they could get their heads around their investments. Each year I have the pleasure of working with a bright crop of interns who come to Kiplinger knowing almost nothing about personal finance. But when I ask them how they enjoyed their time with us, I’m invariably impressed by how much they’ve learned—and taken to heart. For David Marten, a student at Cornell University, the ah-ha moment came while researching a story on target-date mutual funds. In David’s words, these funds “are useful for people who don’t have the time and don’t want to make the effort to manage their portfolios by themselves—myself included.” David has no qualms about investing in stocks because he figures if he were to invest in a fund geared toward his retirement date, “I’d stand to get a decent return over time.”

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Target-date funds aren’t perfect, but the concept is easy to grasp. And, like David, when you understand an investment, you’re more likely to feel comfortable taking the risk.

That’s one reason we include target-date funds in our cover story on simple investing. But our easy-to-follow advice gives you other options—including a portfolio of just two funds that cover the world. And simple investing isn’t just for beginners. As contributing editor Elizabeth Ody points out, “the big secret to successful investing is that it’s actually not all that complicated.”

Already stuck with a glut of stocks or funds? We tell you how to declutter your portfolio, which just might make you kick up your heels—or at least crack a smile.

P.S. The easiest way to boost your investment returns is to keep costs down. See our rankings of the top online brokers.



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