After writing this morning’s Betterment review  and reading about their rebalancing feature, I started thinking about rebalancing. Betterment rebalances your portfolio after each quarter and if your actuals deviate from your allocation by more than 5%. In other words, they rebalance on a schedule and when the deviation exceeds a certain level (5%). When you read about rebalancing and when you should do it, many places often just point to a calendar date – rebalance every quarter, every six months, or once a year.
What is Rebalancing?
Rebalancing is the act of adjusting your actual investment allocation so that it meets you desired investment allocation. If you want to be 80% stocks and 20% bonds, you need to rebalance your investments periodically since both will likely perform differently over time. How often and when you rebalance is a matter of debate but as is the case with any type of investing (or gambling), it’s about the odds, your plan, and sticking with the plan as long as it’s worth sticking to!
Why should you rebalance? It’s all about the plan and mitigating your risk versus your reward. If you want to be aggressive and go 90% stocks, 10% bonds, you want to make sure your portfolio reflects that plan. As investments perform differently, you adjust your portfolio to reflect your desires.
Rebalancing also has the added benefit of taking the emotion out of investing. It’s hard to sell an asset if it’s lost value (or hasn’t gained nearly as much as others) for emotional reasons. With rebalancing, you take that out of the equation. If you want 80/20, you rebalance to 80/20. You buy more of what’s lower and sell more of what’s higher.
How Often Should You Rebalance?
This is an age-old debate that really has no correct answer and is really up to your situation. Here are a few considerations:
- Commissions and fees: Depending on which broker you use, rebalancing may cost you in terms of commissions and other trading fees.
- Active trading clauses: For example, Vanguard lets you buy and sell it’s mutual funds for free, which is great for rebalancing, but has active trading clauses that will block out out of a fund. If you sell shares of those mutual funds, you can’t buy back in for a period of time (to prevent active trading).
- Capital gains taxes: If you’re rebalancing a 401k or an IRA, taxes won’t be an issue. If it’s a taxable brokerage account, then you will be subject to taxes.
I personally think that, at most, you should rebalance once a quarter. To rebalance monthly seems a little extreme, especially when you consider fees and taxes. You should, however, rebalance at least every year, if not every six months. That’s a long enough period of time that you can avoid most active trading clauses.
How often do you rebalance?