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3 Retirement Steps You Should Take When the Market Is in Free Fall

By Katie Brockman – Apr 4, 2020 at 6:31AM

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These are uncertain times, but there are a few steps you can take to bolster your retirement fund.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of Americans, both from a health and financial perspective. A whopping 91% of Americans say they're concerned the coronavirus will have a negative effect on the economy, according to research from SurveyMonkey, and many investors are worried about how this market downturn has affected their retirement accounts.

Whether you're nearing retirement or still have decades before you can even think about retiring, it's normal to feel stressed about the current stock market situation. But there are a few steps you can take to ensure your savings are as safe as possible.

Senior couple sitting at a table looking worried

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Don't cash out your retirement fund

When the market is in free fall, it's tempting to want to pull all your cash out of your retirement fund before you lose any more money. But keep in mind that you haven't technically lost any money until you sell your investments, and while things may look rough now, they'll get better eventually.

It may take years before the stock market is fully recovered, but the market corrects itself over time. If you panic and cash out your retirement accounts now, you'll be selling your investments at the worst possible time, when prices are at rock bottom. But if you leave your money where it is, your retirement fund will gradually rebuild itself.

It's human nature to want to do something when the market takes a nosedive, but sometimes the best thing you can do is leave your investments alone and ride out the storm.

2. Keep contributing at least enough to earn any employer matching contributions

Although it may seem counterintuitive, one of the best times to invest is when the stock market drops. Prices are low right now, so if you're going to invest, now's the time to do it.

If you're already saving for retirement, keep contributing what you can. It may seem like you're throwing your cash in the fire when you invest in a falling market, but just keep in the back of your mind that this situation isn't permanent and the stock market will improve over time. If you take a break from saving and then start back up when the market improves, you're missing out on valuable time to grow your investments.

It's especially important to keep saving if you're earning employer matching contributions through your 401(k) plan. These matching contributions are essentially free money, so if you're not saving at least enough to earn the full match, you're missing out on extra cash.

3. Don't check your investments frequently

When you can't stop thinking about your investments, you may be tempted to check your retirement accounts every day, every hour, or every five minutes. But because there's nothing you can do to magically improve the market, you'll only be creating more stress and anxiety by frequently checking your investments.

Instead, focus more on the long term than the short term. Your investments may not look pretty now but they will recover over time -- as long as you keep saving consistently. So delete the app from your phone or log out of the website on your computer and give yourself a break.

If you haven't already, set up automatic retirement fund contributions so you can continue saving regularly without having to log into your account frequently. The less frequently you check your investments, the less likely you'll feel stressed by them.

These are trying times for many Americans, and if you're worried about your retirement investments, you're not alone. But by taking these three steps during a market downturn, you can make better financial decisions and protect your savings.

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