So what if there's a default? 5 things to remember

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Washington's government shutdown is threatening to morph into something far worse—a government debt default that some believe could plunge the nation into a crippling depression.

For ordinary Americans, the consequences likely would mean a bear market in stocks, a possible interruption of government payments such as Social Security and Medicare reimbursements, and substantial losses in bonds, where mom-and-pop investors have piled the vast majority of their cash over the past decade.

Of course, reality is likely to be something less extreme though still disruptive.

Financial pros say now's a good time to think about portfolio protection, risk—as well as the lessons we have and have not learned since the financial crisis devastation.

"People need on an individual basis to continuously reduce their personal levels of debt," said Julie Murphy Casserly, president of JMC Wealth Management in Chicago. "People today for the most part don't have adequate short-term buckets to move through stuff like the things going on in Washington,"

Casserly and other financial pros said investor action in the wake of a potential default should break down into five areas: 1) Holding adequate cash levels; 2) not panicking; 3) rebalancing; 4) taking a global investment perspective, and 5) buying downside portfolio protection.