Investing for the Future in the United States of Agita

No matter who wins the presidency, a lot of people are going to be disappointed. Maybe even scared. But it’s no time to act rashly.

By Ron Lieber

Four years ago, I didn’t have a plan. Donald Trump was the surprise winner of the 2016 presidential election, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say to the people who were on the verge of losing their minds.

In the wee hours of Nov. 9, 2016 — as futures trading suggested that the U.S. stock market was going to fall an awful lot when it opened — I sought to encourage the discouraged. Continue to bet on capitalism, I advised. You can still count on it to deliver the same sort of long-term returns to investors that it had for decades.

Then, within hours of the opening bell in the United States, there was a reversal. Shares ended up rising that Wednesday. That calm-down column that I wrote in the middle of the night needed some revising.

So this time, I’m writing things down ahead of election night. And I’ve had daytime conversations with financial planners who had, in previous careers, worked in government jobs under both Republicans and Democrats. They offered a few helpful pointers.

First, a maxim of sorts about our collective state of anxiety — whether you’re pulling for four more years or a new occupant in the Oval Office. “Emotions are really good at raising questions and really bad at answering them,” said Zach Teutsch, a financial planner in Washington, D.C. It’s true in life, and it’s certainly true with financial decisions. Try not to make any big ones anytime soon.

Second, it’s easy to overestimate how much change is possible in the first year of any presidential term, especially for things that can hit you squarely in the wallet, like taxes, retirement rules or health care. Mr. Teutsch learned all about that during his time at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he worked from 2013 to 2017.

As Mr. Teutsch tells it, many people working in government spend their careers focused on a single problem within a specific policy area that they would love to fix. They make plans and have memos in their back pockets and are ready when the legislative, executive or judicial clouds part.

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