The last few months have been a financial rollercoaster for millions of Americans, to put it mildly. Tens of millions of workers lost their jobs as businesses closed their doors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and investors watched their retirement savings take a nosedive.
Older adults nearing retirement age are particularly concerned about the future, with nearly 90% of Americans who are planning on retiring within the next decade saying they're at least slightly worried about the effect the coronavirus pandemic will have on their retirement, according to a recent survey from Personal Capital.
However, this doesn't necessarily mean you're not prepared for retirement. The coronavirus pandemic may not be over just yet, and there's a chance a second wave (and a second stock market crash) could be on the way. But despite these uncertainties, there are a few signs you're ready to retire anyway.
1. You have a solid stash of retirement savings
Even during strong economic times, it's important to have a healthy retirement fund before you consider retiring. But this is even more vital right now when the stock market is volatile.
If there's a second wave of COVID-19, the stock market could plummet again like it did earlier this year. That means your savings will likely take a hit as well, and you may need to tweak your retirement strategy. If you've barely got enough saved just to scrape by in retirement, a market downturn could wreak havoc on your finances. But when you have a robust stash of savings, you'll be able to weather the storm and still enjoy a comfortable retirement.
2. You have a healthy emergency fund
An emergency fund is the key to weathering a potential stock market storm. It's not ideal to be withdrawing money from your retirement fund during a market downturn, because that's when stock prices are at their lowest. By selling your investments when stocks are less valuable, you're potentially losing money compared to if you wait to sell until stock prices are higher.
For that reason, it's best to leave as much money as possible in your retirement fund when the market is experiencing a downturn. But you'll need to get money from somewhere, which is where your emergency fund comes into play. When you have a healthy amount of cash stashed in your emergency fund, you can leave your retirement savings alone as much as possible until your investments recover.
Typically, experts recommend saving enough in an emergency fund to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses. But these are not normal times, so it may be wise to save more than that just to be safe.
3. You've created a Social Security strategy
In general, Social Security benefits are designed to replace around 40% of your pre-retirement income. However, the program is on shaky ground right now, and there could be benefit cuts in the relatively near future.
The trust funds the Social Security Administration (SSA) relies on to pay out benefits are expected to run dry by 2034, according to the SSA Board of Trustees' latest report. At that point, the SSA will need to rely on payroll taxes to fund benefits, and those taxes are only expected to be enough to cover around 76% of future benefits. In other words, benefits could be reduced by roughly 25% by 2034 if Congress doesn't find a solution before then.
COVID-19 could be making matters worse, too. With tens of millions of Americans unemployed, there's less money than usual coming in from payroll taxes. That means the trust funds could be depleted before 2034, and retirees could face benefit cuts sooner than expected. By coming up with a plan for how much you'll depend on Social Security and factoring in potential cuts, you can ensure you won't be over-relying on your monthly checks.
Are you ready to retire?
Choosing when to retire is one of the biggest life decisions you'll ever make, so it's not one to be taken lightly. It can be risky to retire during a pandemic, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. If you've done your homework and prepared thoroughly, you can give yourself the best chance at retiring comfortably no matter what the future may hold.