How To Develop a Solid Annual Rebalancing Plan

What is an annual portfolio rebalancing plan and why do you need one? When you first construct a portfolio, the assets are balanced according to your investment objectives, risk tolerance, and time horizon. However, that balance, known as weighting, will likely change over time depending on how each segment performs. If one segment grows at a faster rate than the others, then your portfolio will eventually become overweighted in that area and may no longer fit your objectives.

Rebalancing the portfolio avoids this overweighting, preserving your desired weighting over time. It is an important step to examine your portfolio annually—by yourself or with your financial advisor—to determine what, if anything, needs to be rebalanced going forward into the next year. Depending on market volatility, you may need to rebalance more often than once a year.

Key Takeaways

  • Portfolio rebalancing is reweighting the assets in a portfolio to more accurately reflect the current risk profile.
  • Asset weightings can change over time due to one asset class outperforming or underperforming the others, leading to overweighting or underweighting of certain assets.
  • It's common to rebalance once a year by selling off a portion of the asset that has outperformed.

How an Annual Portfolio Rebalancing Plan Works

In its simplest form, a rebalancing strategy will maintain a portfolio's original asset allocation by selling off a portion of any segment that is growing faster than the rest and using the proceeds to buy additional portions of other portfolio segments.

For example, assume that you create a portfolio composed of 50% stocks, 40% bonds, and 10% cash. If the stocks grow at a rate of 10% per year and the bonds at a rate of 5%, stocks will soon account for more than 50% of the portfolio.

A rebalancing strategy would dictate that the excess growth in the stock portfolio be sold off and the proceeds directed to the bond and cash segments to preserve the original asset ratio. This strategy also leverages the selling off of the better-performing segments when their prices are high and buying others when their prices are lower, which improves the overall return over time.

Rebalancing can be most effective when markets are volatile because the portfolio cashes in on winning stocks and picks up underpriced holdings at a discount. Some rebalancing strategies are tighter than others: one might rebalance if the portfolio becomes 5% overweighted in one sector, while another may allow for up to 10% overweight.

Estate Planning and Taxes

At the same time, when you rebalance your portfolio, you might also want to use this as an opportunity to make adjustments for estate planning purposes. For example, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act stipulates that certain non-spouse beneficiaries of inherited individual retirement accounts (IRAs) must take distributions by the end of the 10th calendar year following the year of the IRA owner's death (exceptions are made for eligible designated beneficiaries). Note that this is if the original owner died on or after Jan. 1, 2020.

If the original owner died on Dec. 31, 2019, or before, and died before they were 70½ years old, the beneficiary can start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) no later than Dec. 31 of the year following the death. The beneficiary may be able to use the five-year rule, which allows any amount of distributions as long as assets are completely distributed by Dec. 31 of the fifth year following the original owner's death.

Now, if the original owner died before Dec. 31, 2019, and was 70½ years old or older, the beneficiary can calculate RMDs using their own age or the original owner's age in the year of their death (whichever was longer). This is advantageous if the original owner was younger than the beneficiary.

Inheriting IRAs means your beneficiaries could be affected by an unexpectedly high tax bill depending on when they take distributions and the overall value of the inherited IRA. If one of your goals is to leave your portfolio assets to your spouse, children, or other beneficiaries to provide for them should you die, you'll need to be aware of and plan for the tax consequences they might encounter based on how your portfolio and retirement assets are structured.

Consider the Costs

Rebalancing can also be done at more frequent periodic intervals, such as every quarter or six months, regardless of market conditions. However, the more often a portfolio is rebalanced, the higher the commissions or transaction costs. Also, some investment custodians may limit shifting money from one fund or asset class to another to a certain number of times per year.

One way to cut fees is by enlisting the services of a recently emerged robo-advisor. These automated services perform basic money-management chores—such as portfolio rebalancing—at a fraction of the cost of a human advisor. There are several now available to consumers and their asset base is growing rapidly.

Another consideration with rebalancing is that for taxable accounts, any investments sold at a profit are subject to capital gains taxes.

Strategies for Portfolio Rebalancing

Portfolio rebalancing is an important activity that requires much thought and consideration. Here are some strategies that you can employ while rebalancing your portfolio.

  1. Design your portfolio rebalancing taking into account your financial goals, objectives, and time horizon. Depending on the state of the market and changes in circumstances, any of the factors listed previously might change. You can alter strategy in the short term, but it should remain intact over the long-term horizon.
  2. Commit to rebalancing your portfolio on a regular basis. The frequency of rebalancing depends on your priorities and the state of the markets. One of the methods for rebalancing is to make modifications based on time. Thus, you may rebalance your portfolio each quarter or every month. At a minimum, an annual checkup is recommended to ensure that your portfolio stays on track to meet desired objectives. During periods of market volatility, you may want to check the health of your portfolio frequently.
  3. Bear the associated costs in mind while rebalancing your portfolio. Each rebalancing transaction incurs fees. While some apps and brokerages provide their services for free, there are still costs associated with transactions involving funds and indexes. Robo-advisors, which automate the tasks associated with rebalancing, are one way to reduce fees associated with rebalancing. Setting up your portfolio in a tax-advantaged account, such as an IRA, is one way to reduce tax implications for your portfolio.

The Bottom Line

Rebalancing is basically about managing risk. For example, if your original portfolio was composed of 60% and 40% bonds, in a strong equity market where stocks grow (and without rebalancing), the ratio may become skewed toward stocks. Such a stock-heavy portfolio lacks diversity and is much riskier. This might be fine for those with a high tolerance for risk and a long risk horizon, but it could be bad for someone who wants to retire in the next year or two.

Portfolio rebalancing can help you to preserve your original asset allocation and reduce your amount of risk. It can also improve the overall return of your portfolio over time with less volatility. Most money management services, mutual fund companies, and variable annuity carriers offer this service, sometimes for free. For more information on how rebalancing can help your portfolio, consult your financial advisor.

What is a portfolio rebalancing plan?

A portfolio rebalancing plan reconfigures portfolio positions based on the holder's financial goals, objectives, and time horizon, as well as the market conditions at that point in time. Portfolio rebalancing minimizes risk and ensures diversification so that portfolios remain targeted toward their original goals.

What does portfolio rebalancing entail?

During a portfolio rebalancing, assets are sold or purchased based on their performance to maintain or restore their target weighting. For example, you may sell stocks and purchase bonds if the asset ratio of the former exceeds their original weighting during a bull market.

How often should I rebalance my portfolio?

It is recommended that you should rebalance your portfolio at least once a year. Depending on your risk profile and the state of the markets, you can also rebalance your portfolio every quarter or every month.

What are the costs associated with portfolio rebalancing?

Each rebalancing transaction, whether it consists of asset sales or purchases, has fees associated with it. Rebalancing transactions also incur capital gains taxes.

What are some strategies to minimize costs associated with portfolio rebalancing?

You can minimize fees by employing a robo-advisor (as opposed to a human advisor) to rebalance your portfolio. You can also reduce the tax burden by placing your portfolio in a tax-advantaged account.

Article Sources
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  1. Congressional Research Service. "Inherited or 'Stretch' Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and the SECURE Act," Page 2.

  2. Fidelity. "Inheriting IRAs From Someone Other Than Your Spouse."

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