Protect Your Finances Against Market Crashes

Economic expansions don't last forever, and eventually the country will enter another recession. When it does, you need to protect your investments so that you can weather the storm. Assess how exposed you are to stocks and decide whether to diversify your portfolio with safer investments. Also clean up your balance sheet by reducing your debts, which will allow you to survive the recession that accompanies a stock market crash.


Changing Your Investments

  1. Check your current investment allocation. You might have no idea what your retirement fund is currently invested in. If not, log into your account and print out the current allocation of investments, which should include the following:
    • stocks or stock mutual funds
    • bonds
    • real estate
    • money market accounts
  2. Identify why you fear a market crash. The economy goes up and down with some regularity, and when the market crashes stocks suddenly become cheaper to buy. For this reason, you might not want to diversify your portfolio. Instead, you can leave your investments as they are.
    • However, you might want to reduce your exposure to risk if you are nearing your retirement age or have just entered retirement.[1] A major stock market crash could seriously cut the amount of money you have to live on.
    • Your tolerance for risk might also have changed. If so, then you can diversify your portfolio so that you are comfortable with your investment mix.
    • It’s impossible to predict exactly when the next recession will hit, so you shouldn’t move money in and out of the stock market hoping to get out just before things turn south. For example, it looked like the U.S. stock market was about to crash in late 2015. Since then, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has increased more than 20%.
  3. Consider holding money in a savings account. The easiest way to protect your investments is to get out of stocks and move the money to savings accounts. Consider the following options:[2]
    • High-yield online savings accounts. These accounts will only earn about 1-2% annually, but this amount is higher than most banks offer. Your cash is liquid, so you can access it if needed. Furthermore, your deposit will be protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) up to $250,000.
    • Money market accounts. These accounts are like bank accounts but with potentially higher returns. You can write checks against the money market account. Open with your bank or with a company like Scottrade or TD Ameritrade.
    • Certificates of Deposit. Banks and credit unions sell "CDs," which you can buy for a set sum. You are prohibited from accessing the money until the CD matures, but you will earn interest on the investment.
  4. Invest in bonds. Bonds are debt. Companies, as well as governments, issue bonds to raise money, and bonds are a safer investment than stock. Consider putting more of your investment into bonds, such as the following:[2]
    • Municipal bonds. State and local governments issue bonds to raise money, and in return the bonds are exempted from income taxes. You can typically earn 3% annually on bonds. They are a low-risk investment, unless the city government is on the verge of bankruptcy.
    • U.S. savings bonds. These bonds are very safe. With a Series I bond, you get a fixed interest rate, and your return is linked to inflation. With the Series EE bond, you earn an automatic rate of return each month.
    • Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS). The U.S. government offers a fixed interest rate as well as inflation protection that’s triggered every time inflation increases.
  5. Consider annuities. An annuity is a contract with an insurer or financial services company. You make a lump sum payment, and in return you are provided with a fixed sum of money for a specific amount of time.[3] There are several varieties of annuities, which can protect your investments in case of a market crash. For example, fixed-indexed annuities can protect your principal.
    • Annuities are safer than stocks, but they do have some risks. For example, the company you bought the annuity from could go bankrupt. In that situation, you will no longer be paid. You can protect yourself by doing thorough research and only buying an annuity from a company with the highest rating.
    • The value of an annuity can also erode with inflation, though you can buy annuities that will protect against inflation.
  6. Find safer stocks. Not all companies are the same, and some are safer investments in a down economy than others. For example, you might want to get rid of low-grade stock, such as companies with a lot of debt or businesses in speculative fields like biotech that have not yet produced strong profits.[1] In a market crash, the value of these companies will decline.
    • Instead, look to high-quality stocks which tend to hold up better. These companies have stable earnings and low debt.
    • Also consider stocks that pay dividends. Check if you can invest in a dividend exchange-traded fund.
  7. Change your contributions. If you’re not yet in retirement, you should consider changing the allocation of your retirement contributions for the last few years before you stop working. Direct your contributions toward safer investments, such as those discussed above.[1]
    • Changing your contributions will not change the allocation of investments already in your portfolio, so consider diversifying it.
  8. Diversify your portfolio. When the market is good, riskier investments such as stocks perform well. But when the market crashes, you can expect stocks to perform poorly. Accordingly, you might want to diversity your portfolio and move some money out of stocks.
    • How much to move is up to you. However, you don’t have to get out of stocks entirely. Instead, you could reduce stocks to 30% of your portfolio, and have the other 70% in bonds or another safe investment. In a market crash, your losses will remain in the single digits, and you can move back into stocks after the market improves.[1]
    • If you don’t know what to do, meet with a financial planner who can help you assess your risk tolerance and come up with a plan suited to your needs.[4]

Reducing Your Debt

  1. Identify all of your debts. In a market crash, you’ll need as much cash as possible to pay for living expenses. Accordingly, you want to decrease your debt load as much as possible now. Begin by identifying every debt you have, including any of the following:
    • student loan debt
    • credit card debt
    • home mortgage
    • car loan
    • personal loans
  2. Prioritize your debts. You need to make the minimum monthly payments on all debts. However, you should direct extra money to the debts you want to pay off the most. Accordingly, sit down and prioritize your debts.
    • For example, if you lose your job, then you can often delay payments on student loans, using either forbearance or deferment. Accordingly, you might not want to pay down your student loans first but instead focus on credit cards, which probably have a higher interest rate.
    • However, some debts are tied to an asset. For example, you can lose your car or home if you don’t make payment.[5] Paying these debts off early could be a wise choice.
  3. Create a budget. To free up money to contribute to debt payments, you’ll need to budget. Identify the following:
    • Your fixed expenses. These are bills that don’t change much month to month. Generally, fixed expenses are also for necessities, such as your rent or mortgage, health insurance premiums, car payments, and other debts.
    • Your discretionary spending. You can track your discretionary spending over the course of one or two months. Write down what you buy every day and note the price. Alternately, you can buy everything with a debit or credit card and then look at your monthly statement.
    • Reduce discretionary spending. You need your income to exceed your discretionary spending. To free up as much money as possible, reduce discretionary spending to the bare minimum by giving up gym memberships and cable TV. You can also cut out vacations, entertainment expenses, and meals in restaurants.
  4. Refinance your mortgage. Mortgage rates are still low. If you have a high APR, then consider refinancing into a loan with a lower one. Avoid spending the money that you save and instead funnel it toward debt repayment.
    • To investigate a mortgage refinance, contact your current lender to check what rate they can offer you. Then compare their rates to others on the market.
  5. Tackle credit card debt. You want a stable balance sheet when the market crashes, so you should reduce your debts as much as possible.[6] In particular, you should pay down high-interest credit card debt. Identify a method of repayment so that you can wipe out these debts as soon as possible:
    • Debt avalanche. You pay the minimum monthly payment on all credit cards. Then you contribute extra money to the debt with the highest interest rate. Once you pay off that card, focus on the debt with the second highest interest rate.
    • Debt snowball. Another method is to pay the minimum on your monthly debts but then use extra to pay off the card with the smallest balance first. The debt snowball method is more expensive than the debt avalanche, but it can give you momentum.
    • Debt snowflake. This method is ideal for people who can’t budget extra money to pay down debt. Instead, you try to save a little bit of money every day and make multiple monthly payments to slowly chip away at your debt.

Preparing for Emergencies

  1. Build an emergency fund. You’ll need money in case you lose your job or if any kind of emergency springs up. Generally, you should save at least six months of expenses. If possible, save up to twelve months of expenses.
    • Put money toward your emergency fund every month, even if that means you pay off debts more slowly.
    • If you are a retiree, then you should try to have two years of expenses saved. When the market declines, you should live off your savings instead of drawing income from your investments.[7]
  2. Buy insurance. Insurance protects you from any unforeseen accidents that will hammer you financially. In an economic downturn, you’ll need all the money you can get, and insurance will provided valuable protection in case an accident strikes. Consider the following types of insurance:[8]
    • Health insurance. If your employer doesn’t offer it, you can buy it on the government exchanges. Depending on your income, you might quality for a premium subsidy and/or help with out-of-pocket expenses.
    • Automobile insurance. Your insurance will pay if you injure someone in an accident. Depending on the insurance, you might also be covered if someone without coverage injures you.
    • Disability insurance. If you are disabled before you reach retirement, you’ll need income to support you. Your employer probably offers disability insurance. If not, you can shop on your own.
    • Life Insurance. You can replace the income of a working spouse with a life insurance policy. Life insurance is particularly important if you have young children. Calculate how much life insurance you need at
    • Homeowner’s insurance. Your homeowner’s policy covers injuries that occur on your property, as well as any structural damage caused by natural disasters and other accidents.
  3. Assess the stability of your job. In a market crash, many jobs will be wiped out as employers are forced to lay off workers. You need to assess whether your job is stable enough to survive a recession, or whether you should plan on getting a different job.
    • Look at how many people your employer laid off during the last recession. Were only a few let go? If so, your job might be secure. However, if your employer engaged in mass layoffs, then there’s no reason to assume it won’t happen again.
    • You can also pick up some freelance or part-time work now. That way, if the market crashes, you’ll still have some income coming in.

Sources and Citations

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