Moving Money Amid Market Volatility

Could you miss out on big gains while consolidating accounts?

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Dear Alpha Consumer,

I just started a new job and want to roll over my 401(k)'s from my previous two jobs to my new one, so that my money is all in one spot. But I'm scared to move my money because with the market volatility right now, what if I lose out on major gains? Also, I heard that the majority of a person's lifetime gains are typically made on just a handful of days. Is that true? What should I do?

You should move your money without worrying about the market's ups and downs, says Diane Young, director of retirement and goal planning products at TD Ameritrade. Since you have decades until retirement, missing a few days is unlikely to do any major harm. While some research has suggested that significant gains happen on a relatively small percentage of trading days, trying to figure out and avoid those days is a strategy known as "market timing," and one that's pretty much impossible to execute, since no one knows when the market is going up or down.

Plus, says Young, you can make the transfer electronically, so your assets will be out of the market for a very short period, if at all. The bottom line is that it's the decades that matter, not the days.

Young recommends putting the money into a self-directed rollover IRA account, which would give you the freedom to select the funds that you want to invest in, instead of being forced to choose from your former employer's plans. Or, you can put the money into your new employer's 401(k) plan, so all your investments are in one place. As long as your former employers allow it, you can continue to hold your money in those plans, but you should know that at any time those companies could change their plan offerings or policies.

Young also warns about moving money into a self-directed account and then forgetting about it. She recommends reviewing investments at least once a year and making any necessary adjustments.

Do you have a question for Alpha Consumer? E-mail alphaconsumer@usnews.com.