It's important to contribute steadily to a retirement savings plan throughout your career. That way, you'll have money to tap in addition to the monthly benefits you're able to collect from Social Security.
Now you'll generally hear that it's wise to invest your retirement savings rather than leave your IRA or 401(k) plan sitting in cash. You need your savings to grow to outpace inflation and score yourself an adequate amount of buying power down the line.
But what if your IRA or 401(k) plan is down this year? If that's the case, you're in good company. The stock market has had an extremely volatile run, and we don't even know what the last two months of 2022 have in store. And so if you're seeing losses in your retirement plan, here's what to do.
1. Don't panic if retirement isn't close
If you're years away from retirement, then a down portfolio actually shouldn't throw you too much. Sure, it can be unsettling to see the value of your investments plunge. But if you're not retiring for another 20 years, then the events of 2022 could end up being totally insignificant in the grand scheme of your investing window.
2. Make changes if retirement is near
If you're on the cusp of retirement and your IRA or 401(k) is down, you're unfortunately in a different boat than someone who has years to wait for a stock market recovery. Now you don't need to panic if you're supposed to be retiring, say, next year. But you should check up on your portfolio to see how much of it is in cash.
If you've taken a major loss on the investment side but have enough of your assets in cash to cover a year or two of bills, then your retirement plans may not be compromised at all. Otherwise, you might need to consider postponing your workforce exit to give your portfolio some time to recover.
It also pays to look at moving some of your assets out of stocks and into safer alternatives, like bonds. Of course, the tricky thing right now is that cashing out stocks will likely mean taking a loss -- which is yet another reason to consider pushing yourself to work a bit longer if your IRA or 401(k) has taken a very large hit.
3. Make sure your portfolio is diverse
The better time to shift assets around in your portfolio is generally when the market is up, not down. But if you review your investments and find that you have too much money in a particular market segment, it may be time to make some changes.
Even if you have an IRA that allows you to put money into individual stocks (whereas 401(k)s typically limit you to different fund choices), you might still want to move some of your money into broad market index funds for added diversification. And index funds are a great bet for a 401(k), too, since their fees tend to be significantly lower than those charged by their actively managed counterparts.
A lot of people are seeing year-to-date losses in their retirement plans right now. Obviously, that's not something to be happy about. But you shouldn't assume your retirement is doomed. Even if that phase of life is right around the corner, you may be in a position to adjust your plans so a volatile market in 2022 doesn't have to sentence you to years of financial upheaval.