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Worried the Coronavirus Is Ravaging Your Retirement Portfolio? Here's a Good Way to Compensate.

By Maurie Backman - Mar 5, 2020 at 8:36AM

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Retiring in the midst of a stock market downturn can result in a long-term financial blow. Here's how to avoid that.

The stock market is enduring a stretch of volatility, fueled largely by Coronavirus fears. Those concerns aren't just health-related in nature; they pertain to supply chain issues that could impact some of the largest tech companies out there. The travel industry is being hit hard, too, with restrictions growing, companies quashing non-essential trips, and consumers opting to stay home rather than risk boarding flights and cruise ships.

If you're at least a year or two away from retirement, this recent stretch of volatility shouldn't concern you; you have time to sit back and let the market recover before you tap your 401(k) or IRA. But if you're planning to retire sooner, this recent downturn could be catastrophic to your long-term plans. If you start withdrawing from your savings when your portfolio value is down, you'll effectively lock in losses that limit your ability to stretch that money the way you want to. As such, it pays to delay retirement until the stock market recovers from its latest decline. And working longer could be an easy solution in that regard.

Older man and woman with serious expressions looking at documents

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

It pays to put in a little more time in the workforce

If you're staring at a portfolio balance that's considerably lower than it was a few weeks ago, you're probably aware that now is simply not the best time to pull the trigger on retirement. So if you haven't yet tendered your resignation at work, plan to keep at it a bit longer.

Extending your career could help in several regards. First, it could do the trick in letting your portfolio recover. Secondly, it's a great opportunity to pad your 401(k) or IRA and buy yourself more financial flexibility during your senior years. Third, depending on your age, working longer could produce a higher Social Security benefit -- for life. And that, too, buys you wiggle room -- namely, to take withdrawals from your savings throughout retirement even when the market is down.

Have the right investment mix

The one saving grace for many near-retirees today is the fact that much of their portfolios are invested in bonds, which generally don't experience the same rapid swings as the stock market. If you're planning to retire in the not-so-distant future, let this recent bout of market volatility serve as a wakeup call to review your assets and make sure they're allocated appropriately. Limiting your exposure to the stock market is a good way to protect your portfolio at a time when withdrawing from it is closer to being reality.

Sometimes, the best-laid retirement plans can easily go awry. You can save responsibly, invest wisely, and time your retirement perfectly, only to have a stock market downturn mess with your intentions. If that's the situation you're in today, don't panic, but also, don't be stubborn. We don't know when the market will recover from the recent sell-off, but chances are, it will be months, not years. And if that's the case, you're better off working a few months, or even a year, longer than expected rather than sticking to your initial plan and suffering huge financial losses because of it.

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