Amid debt-ceiling chaos, advisers say: Don't panic

July 22, 2011: 8:16 PM ET
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- As the deadline to raise the debt ceiling rapidly approaches, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to dig in their heels, it's hard not to worry about how the ripple effects could impact you.

Individual investors -- particularly retirees -- are rightfully concerned. As the debt-ceiling debate rages on, the security of U.S. Treasuries, considered by most investors to be the safe haven choice, is suddenly in jeopardy.

All three of the major credit rating agencies have warned that they are considering a downgrade of the nation's AAA bond rating -- and that means that Treasuries, the cornerstone of most retirement accounts, would be deemed riskier.

In that case, seniors, or those nearing retirement, who have a bulk of their investments in government bonds, could be particularly hard hit.

Yet, as dire as everything seems right now, many financial advisers agree: Don't panic.

"Selling into fear is never a good strategy," says Armen Guleserian, a certified financial planner in Westwood, Calif. "If you own Treasuries, hang tight."

Many financial pros are in the same camp as Guleserian. They say there are two ways for individual investors to weather this storm -- and neither of them involve dumping your bond portfolio by the end of next week.

Stay the course

"Even if the U.S. is downgraded, the likelihood of the U.S. defaulting is virtually nonexistent," said Jason Washo, a financial planner in Scottsdale, Ariz. U.S. Treasuries will remain high-quality bonds, he said.

Washo cautions his clients against getting overly concerned about their retirement security. Rather, he advises them to consider any investment in the federal government as a relatively safe bet. "I tell them this is a lot of politics."

Full converage: America's Debt Crisis

"There's always going to be a crisis du jour that people want to invest around, and even if they are right about how to do it, typically the timing is wrong," noted Michael Goodman, an investment adviser in New York. "It's so much better to stick to your investment plan."

Be diversified

Most financial pros agree, however, that now is a good time to check and see if your investment plan is properly balanced. Diversification, they say, is the key to weathering events like this, in retirement or otherwise.

To maintain a mostly risk-averse bond portfolio during the golden years, "have some exposure to different parts of the fixed-income market," said Michael Mussio, a portfolio manager at FBB Capital Partners in Bethesda, Md. Include other types of bonds, like corporate and municipal bonds, in addition to Treasuries, in the fixed-income portion of your portfolio, he said.

And, of course, a well-balanced portfolio should also include equities.

Goodman recommends holding a well-diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds from all over the world and from a range of sectors. He suggests having some holdings in emerging markets and publicly-traded real estate investment trusts, or REITs, commodities and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, or TIPS, to hedge against inflation -- a likely consequence of the government intervention to come.

Mark Carruthers, a New York-based certified financial planner who specializes in retirement planning, says that a well-balanced portfolio wouldn't be complete without some large-cap stocks -- like most Dow components -- which offer attractive dividend yields that will appreciate as well.

"Retirees seem to think fixed-income products are the only way to generate their retirement income -- this isn't true," he said.

"A lot of businesses are in a heck of a lot better position than U.S. Treasury debt," Mussio added. "So when you're looking at what to buy, it's hard not to look at a company with a 2%-3% dividend." To top of page

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