The economic impact of COVID-19 has been devastating thus far. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, countless small businesses have closed their doors, and retirement plan values have plummeted. In fact, 58% of Americans say COVID-19 has negatively impacted their long-term savings, and 54% worry the worst is still yet to come for the stock market, according to a new survey by Allianz. If you share a similar fear, here are a few steps to take.
1. Boost your emergency fund if you're still working
What does your emergency fund, which should be in cash, have to do with the stock market? It's simple. If your income is cut due to COVID-19, you may need cash reserves to pay your bills until you're working once again. And if you're worried about a declining stock market, the last thing you should plan to do is liquidate investments to get cash when you need it. Rather, you should boost your emergency savings so that if the market drops further, you'll have the option to take a cash withdrawal and leave your portfolio alone. Under normal circumstances, it's a good idea to have three to six months' worth of living expenses on hand for emergencies. During the current crisis, you may want to aim for the higher end of that range.
2. Don't give up on your retirement plan
The idea of seeing the stock market fall even more is daunting -- so daunting that you may be inclined to stop funding your 401(k) or IRA until things pick back up. But actually, now's a great time to keep pumping money into your retirement plan if you can afford to do so. For one thing, it'll help ensure that you stay on track as far as your savings efforts go. Furthermore, it may give you an opportunity to load up on quality investments in your retirement plan that may be discounted right now. To be clear, your emergency fund should take priority over retirement plan contributions, because the former is what you'll use to cover your immediate needs should your job or income get compromised. But if you're good on emergency savings, definitely don't neglect your retirement plan.
3. Explore affordable borrowing options
Liquidating stock investments when they're down means locking in losses. If your income takes a hit during the ongoing crisis, you can avoid having to go that route if you're able to borrow affordably, so it pays to secure a loan that will then enable you to leave your portfolio alone. If you own a home, a home equity loan or line of credit is generally your most affordable bet. If you're not a homeowner, you can look at applying for a personal loan. You can also borrow from your 401(k), but proceed with caution -- there could be severe repercussions if you wind up unable to pay that loan back on schedule.
It's too soon to tell whether the stock market has already hit its low, or whether things will get worse before they get better. But remember, the stock market has a strong history of recovering from losses, so even if investment values plummet further, that won't necessarily result in you actually losing money. The key is to put yourself in a position to be able to wait things out as needed.