Drifting Through Time
Say you started out with a portfolio of 50% stocks and 50% bonds at age 21. Stocks go up 2 out of 3 years on average. By the time you’re 50 your portfolio mix could drift to 90% stocks and 10% bonds. That’s quite out of balance!
In rebalancing, we would sell the “excess” of stocks and use the proceeds to purchase bonds. In doing so, we ensure that we sell investments at a relatively high prices and buy investments at a low price.
Effects of Rebalancing
In a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds, you will typically be selling stocks and buying bonds when you rebalance. You will be removing excess volatility from the outsized stock allocation and going back to your initial combination of stocks and bonds.
Quarterly or Annually — Which is better?
In a taxable account, there is a tax benefit for waiting more than a year to rebalance. In a non-taxable account, quarterly rebalancing can have some advantages. You probably don’t want to rebalance on shorter time periods because you need to give your strong-performing investments time to run and avoid the potential costs of excess transactions.
Is it possible to set up automatic rebalancing? One way is to work with a professional money manager like NorthStar. We do this for our clients. Big firms like Vanguard usually don’t have an automatic option, but they say they will spend 15 to 30 minutes on the phone with customers to help walk through the process and get rebalanced.