Tips to outlast the crisis

Posted: October 15, 2013

ALL THE TALK about the federal debt ceiling might remind you of Charlie Brown's teacher.

Remember her from the animated television specials based on the "Peanuts" comic strip? All you hear when the teacher speaks is, "Waa, waa, waa, waa."

This might be what you hear when politicians talk about the fight to raise the debt limit, except you aren't laughing, because you're too worried about what it means for your own financial situation.

A deal might be struck soon, but I wanted to help ease some of your fears. I asked a number of experts to address some of the questions you may have.

Q: Should I be worried about my money?

A: Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America: "At this point, I don't think it's productive for consumers to worry greatly about their personal funds. Big investors around the world are concerned, but I still think House Republican leaders will act to avoid default. And consumers should remember that the key financial-services regulatory agencies, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and its insurance funds that protect consumer bank deposits, do not depend on federal funding. However, even if default is avoided, consumers should be very concerned about the impact of continued congressional use of default, and government shutdowns, on their incomes and investments. The resulting erosion of investor and consumer confidence could well halt our slow recovery from the Great Recession."

Q: Really, the money in my bank account is protected? Even in the event of a government default?

A: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.: "Yes. Deposit insurance will continue to protect the insured deposits of bank customers." To learn more, visit fdic.gov. When you go to the site, search: "Are my deposits insured?"

Q: Should I be doing something different with my investments?

A: Chris Horymski, associate editor of Consumer Reports: "We've been advising the same long-term passive-investing approach as always, precisely because of events like these. Staying diversified among asset classes, which means owning both stocks and bonds, and not trying to guess the outcome of whatever happens in Washington, is usually the best course of action."

Q: Is there anything I should do about my retirement plan? I'm scared.

A: Don Blandin, president and chief executive of the Investor Protection Trust: "The evidence from recent market downturns is clear. Investors who panicked on bad news and took their money out ended up returning too late to realize profits when the markets bounced back. The real danger of 'overreacting' is not at the moment of crisis - it's days, weeks or months later, when the market comes back and you are still sitting on the sidelines with your cash.

"The best solution for long-term investors is to stop obsessing about day-in, day-out ups and downs. You are much better off buckling in for the long haul.

"Now, the one positive thing about a crisis is that it gets you focused on your investments. And that can be a very good thing. We encourage people to take stock of their portfolios every year. Figure out what is working and where it may need to change or be supplemented in some way."

Q: What should I do if I'm near retirement?

A: Valerie Coleman Morris, author of It's Your Money So Take It Personally and a financial-literacy specialist: "Be vigilant. Don't loan money. Put your financial oxygen masks on and breathe. Time is not on your side for recovery, so have a personal ceiling on your spending and lending."

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