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40% of Americans Fear They'll Never Retire Because of COVID-19

By Maurie Backman - May 17, 2020 at 5:18AM

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Will the pandemic destroy your chances of retiring? A frightening number of workers worry it will.

The COVID-19 crisis has been a nightmare beyond most people's imagination, and with the U.S. economy still largely shut down, it's hard to say when things will start to get better. Not only is the pandemic hurting people's immediate financial prospects, but it's also making many people question whether retirement is still on the table.

In fact, 56% of Americans are more concerned about retirement today compared to how they felt about it a year ago, according to the May 2020 Simplywise Retirement Confidence Index. Worse yet, 40% of Americans now fear they won't manage to retire at all. If you're worried that the pandemic will ruin your chances of retiring, here are a few steps you can take to prevent that fate.

Seated older man with serious expression holding eyeglasses


1. Leave your existing retirement savings alone

Retirement plan values have dropped substantially since COVID-19 battered the stock market earlier this year. Since early April, the market has managed to recoup some losses, but it could very well crash again if the pandemic drags on. To minimize the impact to your retirement, pledge to leave your IRA or 401(k) alone unless you absolutely need to take a withdrawal to cover immediate expenses.

Normally, tapping a retirement plan prior to age 59 1/2 results in steep penalties, but as part of the COVID-19 relief package passed in March, you can now take up to $100,000 in penalty-free withdrawals. But that's an option you should only exercise as a last resort, and if you're able to leave your savings alone as the crisis plays out, you won't lock in losses that may be difficult to recover from.

2. Borrow wisely in the near term if you can't pay your bills

If your income has taken a hit due to COVID-19, you may be thinking of whipping out credit cards to cover your bills in the near term. But as you probably know, that's a move that could compromise your immediate and long-term financial security, thereby making retirement a more precarious notion.

A better bet? Look into more affordable loan options. Borrowing against your home is a viable solution if you have the equity, and if not, a personal loan could work. You can also borrow money from your 401(k), but first, exhaust all other reasonable avenues.

3. Be flexible with your retirement plans

If you're younger, you have plenty of time to ride out the COVID-19 crisis and recover from it financially. If you're older, however, it's natural to be concerned about its impact on your retirement.

The reality is that the pandemic may force some older workers to postpone retirement by a number of years. But there's a big difference between retiring later than you'd like and not retiring at all. Right now, it's important to be flexible with your plans. We don't know how long the current crisis will play out and how long it will take for a full-fledged economic recovery to happen. Do your best to roll with the punches, difficult as that may be, but don't assume that retirement is completely off the table.

Many Americans were concerned about retirement before the pandemic, and now, things are only looking bleaker. Try to stay positive during these trying times, because the right outlook could prevent you from making poor decisions that make a tough situation even worse.

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