The coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented number of layoffs, with approximately 26 million workers filing for unemployment benefits over the last five weeks.
No matter your age or where you are in your career, job loss is always difficult. But these layoffs may be especially challenging for older workers nearing retirement age. Jobs are scarce right now, and it's difficult for some older adults to find work even in good economic times. So if you're laid off now, you might choose to go ahead and retire rather than potentially spending months looking for another job.
However, even if you've been looking forward to retirement for years, it won't be easy to retire early -- especially if you weren't expecting to leave your job just yet. There are a few things you should keep in mind if COVID-19 has forced you to retire early.
Be strategic with your retirement income
No matter when you retire, it's important to make sure you're spending your money wisely so you don't run out of savings too soon. But this task can be difficult if you retire early, because suddenly, your money needs to last longer than you'd planned. In addition, you don't have as much time to save compared to if you'd been able to work for a few more years.
If you're retiring right now, there's an additional challenge you'll face: withdrawing your savings during a recession. When the stock market experiences a downturn, it's not the best time to withdraw your money from your retirement fund. That's because stock prices are lower, so you're selling your investments when they're less valuable. Ideally, you'd wait until the market is in better shape and stock prices bounce back before you sell, because then you'll get more bang for your buck.
You may not be able to wait years to tap your retirement fund if you're retiring now, but you can do your best to minimize the amount you withdraw. If you haven't already created a retirement budget and mapped out all of your expenses, start there. That can give you a good idea of how much you're spending and where you might be able to cut back.
Additionally, if you have money stashed in an emergency fund, you might want to tap that first before you start withdrawing from your retirement fund. That way, you can give your investments as much time as possible to recover.
How Social Security plays into your retirement plans
If you're at least 62 years old, you might choose to start claiming Social Security benefits now. You'll receive smaller checks compared to if you had waited to claim until your full retirement age (FRA), but claiming now can help you avoid withdrawing more than you have to from your retirement fund.
The other option, though, is to do the opposite and delay benefits to receive bigger checks. If you claim at age 62, your checks will be reduced by up to 30% if you have a FRA of 67. But if you have a FRA of 67 and delay claiming benefits until age 70, you'd receive your full benefit amount plus an additional 24%. That can result in hundreds of dollars more per month, and if your savings aren't as strong as you'd hoped they would be, that extra cash can go a long way.
One key factor to consider when deciding whether to claim early or delay benefits is your life expectancy. If you have reason to believe you may live a shorter-than-average lifespan, you might be better off claiming early. You'll receive smaller checks, but you might actually receive more over a lifetime compared to if you'd delayed benefits. In addition, claiming early can help you avoid withdrawing too much from your savings, which can help that money last longer.
On the other hand, if you think you may live a longer-than-average lifespan, it might be best to delay benefits. You may burn through your savings quicker this way, but you'll also receive fatter checks for the rest of your life. If you live a very long life, there's a chance you'll run out of savings no matter when you retire or claim benefits, so these bigger checks can help make ends meet when that happens.
COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, and there's a good chance you may need to rethink your retirement plans. If you're forced to retire earlier than you'd expected, make sure you're being strategic with your finances. By spending wisely, you can ensure your money lasts as long as possible.