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Financial pros offer smart investment tips during the coronavirus crisis

Caroline Purser | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

The economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented strife.

More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs, the markets are roiling, and Americans, stressed about all this uncertainty, are left with many unanswered questions. 

Two of CNBC's Financial Advisor Council members — Lazetta Rainey Braxton, co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, and Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and founder of Life Planning Partners — along with Josh Brown, CEO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, listened to viewers and answered their questions on CNBC's "Markets in Turmoil" Monday night.

Here is how these experts responded to viewers' most pressing concerns.

How do investors determine asset allocation and the level of risk that's for them?

According to McClanahan, there are two factors that should drive portfolio allocation. The first is, how long do you have before you need to use your money? If you need your money in the near term, meaning that you are approaching retirement age or you recently retired, McClanahan says investors should be consecutive and dial back their risk.

Younger investors who can stomach swings in the market should be more aggressive with their allocations.

Braxton says that now is a good time to figure out your risk tolerance. Investors have had a wide range of reactions to this market. Some might be indifferent to the roller coaster right now, while others are fearful they won't be able to get through their retirement years. Braxton said to use your reactions as a way to gauge your tolerance and then couple that with your timeline and goals. 

While there is software available to help ease investors' fears, the No. 1 test an investor needs to pass to understand their risk tolerance is the sleep test, according to Braxton. Can you sleep at night? If not, you may need to adjust your investment allocation. 

But risk tolerance is not static; it, too, changes with your age and goals. McClanahan suggests that investors always keep track of how much they could lose, especially when markets are rallying. Being conscious of how much you could lose, especially during the rally, will have you prepared for when the market dives. 

How should I manage my investments in my 401(k)?

McClanahan's first piece of advice for investors invested in a 401(k) is to make sure the fees are low. If not, talk to your employer about lowering them. 

Next, make sure that you are diversified. McClanahan acknowledges that this can be difficult for investors that do not have a lot of money invested in their 401(k)s and are probably on a life-cycle fund. As you invest more money into your 401(k), you will need to determine the asset allocation that is right for you.

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How do I determine the amount of allocation I should have in cash? 

VIDEO3:3303:33
Josh Brown: 'Don't shy away from market volatility'

There are a lot of advantages to being a professional investor, but according to Brown, there are advantages to being an individual investor. Unlike the pros, individuals don't have to answer to quarterly earnings reports. "As an individual investor, I only answer to myself, as that is decades away." 

For young investors, volatility is the source of future returns. Cash should be saved in savings accounts where it will be the most liquid. Young investors should take on as much risk as they can tolerate. However, older investors may want to sit on more cash, as they will likely need to start withdrawing soon. "Risk is all about how much you can afford to lose, and young people have a long period of time. They can take more risk, and ideally, in the long run, it is going to make a lot of money for them."

McClanahan reminded investors that when they invest in stocks, they are investing in companies. Every year, some companies fail, she says, but most are successful, and unlike the 2008 crash, this market crash was started by a global pandemic. Just because a company's stock price plummeted doesn't mean the company was in bad shape, she says.

Risk is all about how much you can afford to lose, and young people have a long period of time. They can take more risk, and ideally, in the long run, it is going to make a lot of money for them.
Carolyn McClanhan
founder of Life Planning Partners

What do I do if I need to take a loan or withdraw from my 401(k)?

According to Braxton, the first thing everyone needs to do before taking out a loan is to determine exactly how much money they need to live. You don't want to take out more than you need, because not only are you the borrower in this case but you are also the lender. The next thing you'll have to do is check with your employer to see how much you can take out and what the interest rate on repayments will be.

The recently passed CARES Act now allows you to borrow up to $100,000 (previous loan limit was $50,000) from your 401(k) and delay repayment for up to one year. After you borrow, you'll typically have to repay the loan within five years, depending on the terms of your 401(k) plan. Under the CARES Act, loan payments due in 2020 can be delayed for up to one year from the time you take out the loan. However, if you can't pay back the loan within the time frame designated by your plan, your outstanding balance will be taxed like a withdrawal, and you'll also have pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

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Temporary rules allow Americans to take money out of their 401(k)

What are you telling investors in order to reassure them at this time?

A lot of investors are nervous about what the future will hold. Braxton reassures her clients by showing them a slide of market performance over the last century. Over the last century, there have been crashes, but each time, the economy rebounds and the stock market expands. "If you made it through 2008, you can make it through this," she says. 

Through all the volatility, though, McClanahan still sees a silver lining: The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a lot of weaknesses in our markets, she says, adding that post coronavirus recovery offers us the opportunity to build stronger and more equitable systems. 

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.