When do you plan to retire? Whether it's in two years or in 10, you should be taking steps now to be financially prepared.
This may seem challenging in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, but the longer you wait, the harder it will be to build the nest egg you'll need. So if you can, here are three steps to take ASAP for a secure retirement.
1. Save and invest
Saving for retirement is a lifelong project; the sooner you start, the less you'll have to put aside each month thanks to compound interest. And you should use the right tax-advantaged accounts to do it: a 401(k) or IRA whenever possible. Finally, the money in these accounts should be invested (mostly in the stock market) so you can earn the returns necessary to grow your wealth.
If you're out of work right now, saving may not be on the top of your list. But if you're eligible for expanded unemployment benefits and can cover your essential bills and potential emergencies, investing even a little bit of those benefits could make a difference. If you're still working, make sure you have money for emergencies during these turbulent times. But when that's covered, saving for retirement should be your next priority.
Investing may seem frightening right now with so much volatility in the stock market. But if you're a long-term investor (and you should be), it doesn't really matter much if you buy in during a market correction or a market rally. You should do well over the long term as long as you diversify your portfolio and research your investments carefully.
2. Plan to cover healthcare
Many people's retirement plans don't allow for healthcare costs that are likely to go way up. Medicare doesn't pay for everything; most estimates suggest that even seniors covered by the program will need a small fortune to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses. And the coronavirus crisis is a stark reminder that you never know what medical problems you'll face in the future.
If you have a qualifying high-deductible health plan, then the best option to prepare for healthcare costs as a senior is to invest in a health savings account (HSA). It allows you to claim a deduction for investments in the year you make them and to make tax-free withdrawals to pay for qualifying care. And because the IRS extended the filing deadline for the 2019 tax year, you still have time to contribute to an HSA and get your deduction for last year. You can contribute until July 15, the new filing deadline.
If you don't have the option to invest in an HSA, adding to your 401(k) or investing in an IRA for medical expenses is smart. The extended tax deadline also means you have until July 15 to contribute to an IRA for 2019.
3. Start paying off your debt
Debt has become a big problem for seniors as more people are retiring with more of it than ever before. For those on a fixed income, debt payment is a huge burden. The last thing you need is to waste your limited Social Security money or withdrawals from your retirement accounts on paying credit cards or other loans.
Again, if you're unemployed right now, debt payment probably isn't a priority. But if you're still working or if your unemployment benefits equal or exceed the salary you made when working, this is an optimum time to deal with debt. Low current interest rates mean you may be able to refinance high-interest debt at a lower rate, so repayment becomes easier. And if social distancing has cut your spending on dining out and entertainment, you can redirect some of that money toward becoming debt-free ASAP.
Preparing for retirement is a lifelong project
For most people, retiring is something to work toward throughout an entire career. If you pay down debt, invest in accounts that provide tax breaks, and prepare for healthcare as a senior, you'll be better able to accomplish your goal of financial security for your later years. And that's true even in a pandemic, as long as you have a little extra to invest in your future.