What Is a Good Return on Your Investments?

Reasonable Return Expectations Can Help Avoid Too Much Risk.

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One of the main reasons new investors lose money is that they chase after wild rates of return, whether they are buying stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, or some other asset class. That may be because most people don’t understand how compounding works. Every percentage increase in profit each year could mean huge increases in your wealth over time.

To provide a stark illustration, $10,000 invested at 10% for 100 years could turn into $137.8 million. The same $10,000 invested at twice the rate of return, 20%, does not merely double the outcome; it turns it into $828.2 billion. It may seem strange that the difference between a 10% return on investment (ROI) and a 20% return is 6,010 times as much money, but it's the nature of compound growth. A further example is shown in the chart below.

What Is a Good Rate of Return?

Before we can determine what would be a good rate of return, we have to think about inflation, which decreases the value of currency over time. Prices go up. You'd need more money in the future just to buy the same amount of goods for a certain amount today.

Many people who invest do so to increase their buying power. That is, they don’t care about “dollars” or “yen” per se, they care about how much they can buy with that money.

When we look through the data, we see that the rate of return varies by asset types:

Gold

For the most part, gold hasn’t gained much in real value over the long term. Instead, it is merely a store of value that keeps its buying power. Decade by decade, though, the value of gold changes often, going from huge highs to extreme lows over just a few years.

These frequent changes in rate of return make it far from a safe place to store money you may need in the next few years.

Cash

Money, or fiat currencies, can depreciate in value over time. Burying cash in coffee cans in your yard is a terrible long-term plan. If it manages to survive the weather, it will still be worth less, given enough time.

Bonds

From 1926 through 2018, the average annual return for bonds was 5.3.%. The more risk a bond carries, the higher the return investors demand.

Stocks

Since 1926, the average annual return for stocks has been 10.1%. The riskier the business, the higher the return investors demand.

Real Estate

Without using any debt, real estate return demands mirror those of business ownership and stocks. We have gone through decades of about 3% inflation over the past 30 years.

Projects with more risk require higher rates of return. Plus, real estate investors are known for using mortgages, which are a form of leverage, to increase the return on their investment.

The present low-interest-rate landscape has resulted in some big changes in recent years, with people accepting real estate returns that are far below what many long-term investors might consider reasonable.

Keep Your Hopes In Check

If you're a new investor and expect to earn 15% or 20% compounded returns on your blue-chip stock holdings over decades, you expect too much. It's not going to happen. That might sound harsh, but you need to know it. Anyone who says you'll get returns like that is taking advantage of your greed and lack of experience. Basing your portfolio on bad assumptions means that you will either do something reckless, like pick risky assets, or retire with much less money than you thought. Neither is a good outcome. So, keep your hopes in check, and you should have a much less stressful time investing.

Talking about a "good" return can be complex for new investors. That's because these results—which are not guaranteed to be repeated—were not smooth, upward rises. If you are invested in stocks, you periodically see huge drops in value. Many of these drops last for years. It's the nature of free-market capitalism. But over the long term, the rates above are the rates of return that investors have historically seen.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services or advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.