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How investors can protect their money

Finance

TEXT OF STORY

Stacey Vanek-Smith: No question about it, this has been one scary week on Wall Street. A couple of multi-billion dollar companies went belly-up. A couple of others were bought out. And the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell almost 25 percent below its peak last year.

So, what should investors do in times like these? I put that question to personal finance expert Greg McBride. Greg, how about starting with a little practical advise. What can investors do to protect themselves in the current climate?

Greg McBride: Any money that you put in the bank absolutely must be FDIC insured. If you have $150,000 sitting in a savings account, you have an exposure, and that's an exposure that you need to fix, regardless of the health of the bank. You can split that money among multiple banks or among separately titled accounts that fall under different ownership categories at the same bank. If you have a brokerage account, make sure that that's covered by SIPC insurance. That protects you in the event that the brokerage goes under.

Vanek-Smith: As an investor myself, I sort of am starting to feel myself like maybe I should put my money under the mattress. What are some safe investments, if any, right now.

McBride: Well, it's important to know the difference between money market mutual funds and a money market account. There was a money market mutual fund that did what's know as breaking the buck this week. And money market mutual funds stay at a net asset of a dollar, but in this case, the one fund broke below that down to 97 cents. Now, the majority of investors have their money at large mutual funds or brokerage houses that would do what they could to preserve the net asset value of that fund. On the other hand, if you are worried, you have a couple of options. You can move that money fund into what is know as a government or treasury money fund at the same firm. Another alternative, look for bank money market deposit accounts. Although the name is similar, this is an FDIC-insured account.

Vanek-Smith: Traditionally, when the market goes down it's a good time to buy, you can find some good bargains. Is now a good bargain-hunting time or is this different than the traditional down market.

McBride: We've seen several tremendous buying opportunities in 2008 for investors with a long-term horizon. And that's the key. If you're looking to make a mint in the next three years, ah, you know, the stock market's probably not the place to do it. But if you're saving money for a child's college education that may be a decade away, if you're putting money away for your own retirement, yes, this is a tremendous buying opportunity. Whether or not it's the bottom, nobody knows. But if you're disciplined about buying on the depths, you'll be rewarded in the long run.

Vanek-Smith: What will you be watching for the next couple of months?

McBride: I think a lot of it boils down to what you continue to see in the housing market. If home prices continue to fall or foreclosures continue to rise, it's going to make it very, very difficult for gusto get through this credit crunch. And until we get through the credit crunch, the economy is not going to be able to regain its stride.

Vanek-Smith: Greg McBride is a senior financial analyst with bankrate.com. Greg, thank you for talking with us.

McBride: Thank you for having me.

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