It's no secret that COVID-19 poses a greater health threat to older people than to younger ones. But in a new survey by Personal Capital, 38% of baby boomers say that they're more concerned about COVID-19's financial impact than the health-related repercussions it could produce.
Why are older Americans so worried?
There's a reason baby boomers are particularly concerned about the state of their wealth: Between Jan. 31 and March 31 of this year, the average retirement plan balance among those in their 60s fell 10.1%. Among 50-somethings, it dropped 11.7%.
These aren't small numbers, and while younger savers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s actually fared slightly worse, they also have a lot more time to sit back and wait for the market to recover. Older workers -- particularly those in their 60s -- may not have that same luxury.
What older workers can do in light of COVID-19
If you're a baby boomer who's suddenly worried about your retirement prospects because your IRA or 401(k) has taken a hit, perhaps the best thing you can do is sit back and do nothing. Unless you're really planning to retire within the next year or two (in which case you may, unfortunately, need to rethink that plan), there's a good chance the market will slowly but surely improve as the COVID-19 outbreak is increasingly brought under control. In fact, as of this writing, the market has already recovered a fair amount of the losses it clocked in back in March, when we saw our first bear market in over a decade.
Of course, there's concern that a second wave of COVID-19 infections could drive the stock market right back down, and that's a distinct possibility. But again, if you're not planning to touch your retirement plan within the next few years, that may not end up being an issue, so if that happens, plan to sit tight and wait things out.
That said, there are some things you can do to protect yourself in the face of so much uncertainty. First, make sure you have a fully loaded emergency fund -- one with enough money to cover about six months of living expenses. That way, if you lose your job, you won't be tempted to raid your retirement plan prematurely to pay the bills; you'll instead have cash in the bank to access.
Next, review your retirement plan and see if your assets are allocated appropriately. If you're within five years of retirement, a chunk of your assets should be in bonds and you should retain some cash in your IRA or 401(k), as well. If you're within 10 years of retirement, you can still go fairly heavy on stocks, but start to shift a smaller percentage of your assets into bonds.
That said, don't make any moves while your stock investments in your retirement plan are down. Rather, map out a plan so you know what moves to make once your retirement account recoups the value it may have lost earlier this year.
Finally, don't stop funding your retirement plan. If you normally contribute $400 a month, keep at it. And if you're saving money during the pandemic -- which may be the case if you're working remotely and not commuting or have largely stopped dining out -- consider increasing the amount you put into your IRA or 401(k) each month.
While it's natural to have financial concerns at a time when the U.S. economy is in shambles, the COVID-19 crisis doesn't have to wind up wrecking your retirement plans. Stay calm and keep saving, so you can emerge from the pandemic financially unscathed.