The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on the U.S. economy, with the Dow experiencing its worst first quarter in history by dropping more than 23%. You've likely watched your own retirement savings plummet as well, which can be worrisome whether you're nearing retirement age or still have decades left of your career.
The stock market can be unpredictable, and there's no way to predict exactly when a recession will strike or how long it will last. There are, however, a few ways to prepare for it. While there's never a guarantee you won't face financial challenges in retirement due to a recession, there are a few things you can do to protect your savings as much as possible.
1. Delay claiming Social Security benefits
The best part about Social Security benefits is that they're guaranteed income for life. No matter how long you live or whether the economy is booming or in the middle of a recession, you can still depend on your monthly checks. That means it's a good idea to maximize your benefits just in case you can't rely on your personal savings to make ends meet.
You can begin claiming Social Security as early as age 62, but by waiting until after that age to claim, you can collect more in benefits each month. For example, say you have a full retirement age of 67 years old, and by claiming at that age, you'd receive $1,500 per month in benefits. If you claim early at age 62, your benefits will be reduced by 30%, leaving you with $1,050 per month. But if you were to wait until age 70 to begin claiming, you'd receive your full benefit amount plus an additional 24%, or $1,860 per month. While you can wait until beyond age 70 to begin claiming, your benefits won't be increased any further by doing so.
If you're worried a recession may affect your retirement investments, delaying Social Security benefits can provide peace of mind knowing you'll have bigger checks to fall back on.
2. Build a solid emergency fund
Everybody needs an emergency fund, but it's especially important to have one when you're retired. Not only can an emergency fund help you avoid withdrawing too much from your retirement fund when you're faced with unexpected expenses, but it can also help you weather market downturns.
A recession is one of the worst times to withdraw money from your retirement savings because by doing so, you're locking in your losses. Your investments will always fluctuate year to year, but you don't actually lose any money until you sell. If you've spent decades building up your savings and then a recession strikes during your retirement, withdrawing your money when the market is down is the equivalent of buying high and selling low.
When you have a healthy emergency fund, though, you can tap that cash during a recession. That allows you to leave your retirement savings alone until the market recovers and your investments regain their value. Once the economy improves, you can start withdrawing your savings again without facing significant losses.
3. Adjust your asset allocation
When you're young and still have decades until retirement, you'll typically want to invest heavily in stocks because they provide higher rates of return than bonds. Even though they are riskier, you have plenty of time to recoup your losses if the market drops.
As you get older, though, it's important to adjust your asset allocation so your portfolio consists of more conservative investments like bonds. A recession can hit at any time, so if you're close to retirement age, you want your investments to lean toward the safer side before there's a market downturn. If you're in your 60s and 80% of your portfolio is allocated to stocks, a recession could devastate your retirement fund -- and you may not have years to wait for it to fully recover.
That said, you should still allocate at least a small portion of your portfolio to stocks even in retirement. Bonds are safer, but even in good economic times they don't provide as high of returns as stocks. While you'll want the majority of your portfolio to be focused on more conservative investments during retirement, keeping some money in stocks can help your savings continue to grow throughout your senior years.
There's no way to completely avoid the financial effects of a recession, and even the most well-prepared retirees can still struggle during market downturns. However, by taking these steps, you can ensure you're doing everything possible to recession-proof your savings.