“Sometimes it takes a period of volatility like this to realize that a real plan has not been in place,” said Matthias Giezendanner, a certified financial planner and founder of San Francisco Wealth Planning.
Now is a good time to reassess your risk tolerance, contribution levels, allocation and, for those who are no longer working at the company sponsoring their 401(k), to think about next steps for your retirement savings.
Evaluate your contributions
“The key thing to keep in mind when this happens is that it is usually temporary,” said Andy Mardock, certified financial planner at ViviFi Planning in Bend, Oregon. “If possible, increase your own savings rate to fill the void.”
If you are experiencing financial hardship because of a pay cut or a layoff in your family, your cash flow may be tight and savings may be depleted.
“You may want to reduce your 401(k) contribution in order to replenish savings and make sure you have enough cash to maintain your living expenses,” said Dan Herron, a certified financial planner at Elemental Wealth Advisors in San Luis Obispo, California. “While this can negatively impact your financial plan, your current well-being is more important.”
But for those who are still employed and who may be spending less because they’re staying home more, it’s a good time to push that contribution rate up, said Ryan Mohr, a certified financial planner with Clarity Capital Management in Portland, Oregon. That’s especially true for younger people with more time until they retire, he said.
“For those with a longer time horizon, it can be a really good time to consider increasing contributions and taking advantage of lower prices that the stock market has given,” he said.
Rebalance to maintain your goals
If you had an investment plan and your situation has not changed, there is no need to change your approach, said Mardock. But you may still need to rebalance your portfolio.
“Big swings in investments as we’ve seen recently can cause portfolios to veer from their target strategy,” he said. “This means the investments are ‘out of balance.’ Rebalancing might be necessary to maintain the right level of risk and return.”
Now is the time to get your target stock and bond allocations back in line with your intended goals, said Mohr.
“Take profits from fixed income and reallocate back into equities at lower prices, which can help a great deal as markets recover,” he said.
For those nearing retirement, Mohr said, take a look at your risk tolerance and time horizon to determine if any allocation changes should be made. Ask yourself: Have you taken on more risk than you intended? Are you being too conservative?
If you’re seeking to retire in the next few years, you’ll need to have more cash on hand.
The aim is to have two years’ of expenses available in cash and another couple years of expenses in short-term or intermediate bond funds, said Tara Unverzagt, a certified financial planner at South Bay Financial Planners in Torrance, California.
“The goal is to never be in a situation where you have to have a ‘fire sale’ at low prices to get cash to pay your expenses,” she said.
Don’t leave your 401(k) behind
In order to continue contributing to your account, you can ask your 401(k) provider to roll over the funds into a new or existing IRA. If you are likely to have a year with significantly less income than your last, you could then perform a Roth conversion with your IRA.
A Roth conversion allows an individual to convert all, or a portion of, a traditional pre-tax IRA into a Roth IRA, said Giezendanner. “You will owe tax on the converted holdings at your current tax rate but will be able to take withdrawals tax free in the future from your Roth IRA upon retirement.”
You also have the option to cash out of your 401(k) if you are no longer an employee. But, like taking hardship withdrawals, the penalties can be significant and the hit to your future savings could be great.
“If at all possible, try not to tap retirement accounts to pay the bills,” said Mardock. “The potential income taxes and penalties can be very painful and leave you playing catch-up in the future.”