If you put $2,000 into an Individual Retirement Account in 1982, the first year they were available, and then opened IRA's in 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986, you would now find yourself with a $10,000 portfolio. If you have a working spouse who was able to do the same, you would have $20,000 to manage.

And that is beginning to look like serious money.

Trying to manage $20,0000 in a sensible, logical and productive way is going to present some serious problems for many investors. The basic question they face is where to invest their IRA money so they get the best return with the least risk, while meeting their retirement goals.

The key element to be considered is the one called "time." Men and women in their 30s or 40s obviously have more time for their investments to mature and grow than people in their 50s. And that will have an important bearing on how they invest.

Closely related is a second factor, described as "risk tolerance." What it means, simply, is that each investor must decide how much risk he is able or willing to assume.

Older investors looking forward to retirement may be more comfortable with low-risk choices. Younger investors, with more time, may seek investments that entail more risk but offer more growth.

When an investor makes his choices, he also needs to think about the liquidity and marketability of his investments. Marketability refers to one's ability to easily sell an investment when one is ready to sell; liquidity is the ability to convert an investment to cash without losing any of the principal.

For instance, a share of IBM stock is easily saleable or marketable, but its liquidity -- whether you will get back what you paid for it -- will depend on the price when you want to sell it.

Finally, there is the question of diversification -- always the first principle of investing. An investor can lower his overall level of risk by spreading his investments around.

How would experts invest a $20,000 IRA portfolio? We asked three Washington financial planners for suggestions, and here is what they said:

*Alexandra Armstrong, chairman of Alexandra Armstrong Advisors of Washington and president of the International Association for Financial Planning, believes investors need to ask themselves several questions about their IRA portfolios.

One of the key questions is: "Is this my only retirement money?" If an investor expects his IRAs to be his only retirement money, besides Social Security, he may want to use conservative investments. If he expects to have other funds available, he may be able to take a little more risk to get a higher return.

Generally speaking, Armstrong said, she likes mutual funds for IRAs "because you can reinvest your dividends and capital gains and there's no money lying around with you trying to decide what to do with it."

Armstrong also believes in diversifying among mutual funds.

For a 35-year-old couple, with 30 years of work ahead of them, Armstrong said she would allocate their $20,000 in this fashion: $5,000 each to Fidelity Magellan Fund, Fidelity Equity-Income Fund, the Growth Fund of Washington and the American Funds' Income Fund of America. Investors could anticipate about a 5 percent return on dividends and interest and, based on past performance, about 20 percent from growth. Future growth, however, would depend on the state of the market.

Those selections, said Armstrong, would put half of the couple's money in funds combining income and appreciation. The other half would be in the growth category.

For a 55-year-old couple, 10 years from retirement and looking for "secure dollars," Armstrong would put $5,000 each in the American Funds' Income Fund of America, the American Funds' Bond Fund of America, Fidelity's Equity Income Fund and Fidelity's High Income Fund, sometimes known as a "junk bond" fund because it contains lower-rated but higher-yielding corporate bonds.

Those choices would give the older couple dependable income from blue-chip stocks and quality bonds with a smattering of risk in the junk bond fund. It would offer about a 9 percent return from dividends and interest and, perhaps, a modest amount of growth.

*John R. May, executive vice president of Manna Financial Planning Corp., Fairfax, believes that investment choices depend heavily on how close you are to retirement. Older investors may want conservative investments designed to produce steady income. Younger people have an opportunity to put their money into investments that offer less income, but much more growth over time.

May says that younger investors should carefully consider the total return they are getting on their investments -- that's dividends and interest plus appreciation -- because the long-term effect of compounding can be dramatic.

If you were to invest $2,000 at the beginning of every year for 35 years at 12 percent interest, you would wind up with almost $1 million. The same investment for the same length of time at 16 percent interest would give you $2.6 million. The extra 4 percentage points would represent an extra $1.6 million.

Even making one's IRA investment at the beginning of each year instead of at the end of the year can make a big difference. Over 35 years, at 10 percent interest, being an early bird would give you an extra $54,000.

For older investors, May suggests putting 70 percent of their portfolio into a fixed-income fund and 30 percent into a growth-and-income stock fund.

For the fixed-income fund, he favors the Seligman High Income Fund (Secured Mortgage Income Series). That's a Ginnie Mae fund with a current yield of 9 to 9.5 percent. For the stock fund, May suggests the Pioneer II Fund, which has beat the averages during the last five years.

For younger investors, May recommends a 50-50 split, with half of the investors' money going into an income real estate partnership called Southmark Equity Partners II of Long Beach, Calif. The fund has bought four office buildings and shopping centers for cash with the intent of reselling them in about seven years. The fund currently is returning 9.25 percent per year, paid monthly. When the buildings are sold, the fund will distribute 85 percent of the proceeds to the limited partners.

The other 50 percent of the investor's money would go to American Capital Comstock, a growth-oriented fund that had a better-than-average track record during the last five years.

May says he likes the real estate partnership because it has a floor of 9.25 percent and offers the chance for good appreciation if inflation heats up again in the next seven years and real estate values rise.

*Robert F. Keller, financial management adviser at E. F. Hutton & Co., Bethesda, has developed a "universal portfolio" that he believes would serve most investors. Keller would put 60 percent of the $20,000 into the Phoenix Stock Fund, a fund that seeks long-term capital gains. He would put 30 percent into the Franklin U.S. Government Securities Fund, a mutual fund made up of Ginnie Maes, securities issued by the Government National Mortgage Association (GNMA).

Keller also would put 10 percent into Insured Income Properties, a real estate limited partnership operated by Franchise Corp. of America. The firm builds fast-food restaurants and leases them to various operators.

Keller estimates that the portfolio would return 5 percent a year in interest, dividends and rental proceeds and provide 11 percent a year in growth, for a total return of 16 percent, depending on market conditions. Of that, he expects a 10.7 percent yield from the Ginnie Mae fund. From the real estate partnership, he expects a 10 percent yearly return and part of any profits realized when the properties are sold in the next 10 years.

Like most portfolios, it has some risk. In a serious down market, he figures, the total portfolio could lose about 9 percent.

Finally, most of the funds mentioned contain sales charges. It is important for an investor to read a prospectus before investing. It will describe the charges, the fund's investment strategy and its track record. Many funds offer a short-form prospectus, but they will provide a longer statement if asked.