The COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of Americans sick and millions more stuck in their homes, hoping to stop the spread. For retirees, many of whom are older and thus at greater risk, the virus is especially frightening.
If you're a senior, you may be worried not only about your health but also about your finances. To help you better understand how the coronavirus crisis could affect your money, here are four key things to know:
1. Social Security benefits won't be affected
The good news for retirees is that their Social Security money will keep coming during the duration of the crisis. There will be no interruption in benefits, which will continue to be directly deposited on schedule.
For those who want to start getting benefits who aren't already receiving them, this option is also still available. You can submit your request online at the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. If you're considering filing due to a lost job, though, be aware that claiming benefits before full retirement age could result in a lifetime reduction in the size of your monthly checks. Always explore other options first, such as claiming unemployment.
2. Social Security offices are closed
Although you'll still get your checks, all Social Security offices have been closed to the public, so no in-person assistance is available.
You can take advantage of the SSA's online self-help services to manage many aspects of your benefits, including updating your bank information or contact details, as well as checking the status of your application.
If you need more assistance, you can either call your local field office or the national 800 number. The SSA has a guide to help you determine which office to contact, but warns that wait times to talk to a representative are very long. You may end up holding for more than 90 minutes, and the SSA has asked you to call only if you have a crucial need, to enable agents to help those who really need it.
3. You don't have to take RMDs this year
If you turned 70 1/2 before Dec. 31, 2019, or if you're turning 72 this year, you'd normally need to take required minimum distributions from certain tax-advantaged retirement accounts, including IRAs and 401(k)s.
These have been suspended for 2020. That means you can leave your money invested if you want. If your investments have taken a hit recently and you don't want to be forced to sell at a loss just to take RMDs, you no longer need to worry about being forced to withdraw funds this year.
4. You're probably getting a stimulus check
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (or CARES Act) provided for most Americans (including retirees) to get a stimulus check. This money is available if your income is under $99,000 or under $198,000 for married couples filing jointly.
Stimulus funds are valued at $1,200 per person, $2,400 per couple, and $500 per dependent child if your income doesn't exceed $75,000 for singles or $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. With income above those limits, your payment is reduced by $5 per $100 in excess income.
The amount of your stimulus check is determined based on 2019 tax returns, or 2018 if you haven't yet filed for last year. If you do not file a return, though, the IRS will use your Social Security statement (Form SSA-1099) to determine your payout, which will be made either via direct deposit or a paper check if your bank information isn't on file.
Now you know how the coronavirus could affect you
Just make sure you make smart choices about whether to take money out of your investment accounts, and consider saving the stimulus funds in case you need the money to help you until the crisis passes.