Do you recall the famous Peanuts scenes during which Lucy van Pelt holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick? Lucy encourages Charlie, promises a steady hand and then surreptitiously pulls the football away at the last second, leaving poor Charlie flat on his back.
Many Americans experienced a similar emotion to Charlie in these scenes as they watched as much as 30% of their lifetime savings evaporate in March due to the sudden economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of this year, 67% of participants in the annual BlackRock DC Pulse Survey felt confident that they were on track for retirement. When the economic downturn occurred so quickly and severely, many saw their careful plans suddenly under threat.
What Actions Can You Take Now?
For the 45 million Americans who are currently retired and the growing number of early retirees expected this year, the challenges of both managing investment risk during a pandemic and searching for competitive, stable income in a low-interest environment may seem insurmountable.
If you are in the midst of contemplating your own retirement plans with these same priorities in view, here are five practical tips to consider:
1. Reconsider the Roth option. Since global equities of various sizes are still down 6% to 15% YTD, now may be a reasonable time to convert some of your depressed Traditional IRA holdings to a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs can be an excellent, tax-free way to fund out-of-pocket medical expenses later in life. Any taxes you may owe for the Roth IRA conversion would be due in 2021, so check with your CFP® professional or qualified tax accountant on whether this approach makes sense for you.
2. Delay your RMD. The CARES Act allows investors to delay their required minimum distributions (RMD) for this year. If you are RMD-eligible this year and you do not need the funds, delaying the distribution from your IRA or workplace retirement account may provide some breathing room for your investments to recover.
3. Think creatively about bonds. The initial 10-year Treasury yield at the beginning of a decade is a strong indicator of its total return during that decade. From 2000 to 2010, the 10-year Treasury return was about 6.4%; from 2010 to the beginning of 2020, the return was close to 3.8%. In the last few days, the 10-year Treasury yield has been less than 1%. The general outlook for core, investment-grade bonds—from corporate to municipal bonds—is that yields will remain low for the coming years. For retirees, it may be practical to think of bonds as more of a shock absorber rather than a significant source for future income. It may be more useful to capture income from the total return of a portfolio with a proper balance of diversified investments, including both equities and fixed income, rather than from bonds alone.
4. Consider a rebalance. According to the Investment Company Institute, only 6.2% of workplace retirement plan participants changed their asset allocations during the tumultuous first quarter of this year. That’s a healthy sign of commitment so far, but if your overall strategy is to maintain a balanced portfolio of 60% in equities and 40% in fixed income, the recent market downturn may have left your portfolio unbalanced.
5. Talk about your plan. Vanguard’s capital-market assumptions published in June 2020 projected a return of 5.5% to 7.5% for U.S. equities and 8.5% to 10.5% for non-U.S. equities over the next 10 years. While these projections are certainly not guaranteed, BlackRock’s “Retirement Insights” survey found that nearly three-fourths of Millennials and Baby Boomers and 59% of Gen Xers expect to fully recover their retirement savings after the pandemic ends. However, Dalbar’s 2020 study of investor behavior revealed that the average investor has a long track record of missing out on potential earnings due to active trading during market cycles. What’s an effective strategy to prevent rash trading? Ken Haman, managing director of AllianceBernstein Advisor Institute, suggests talking before making any decisions. The next time there is a market downturn, or you see a news story featuring a grim outlook, and you feel you need to take immediate action to protect your investments, stop and consider a couple questions first: Is the action you have in mind based on how you may feel at this time, or on what you think will happen in the future? What do you think the investment world will look like in five years?
A CFP® professional can you help you prepare for retirement and protect your financial plan through economic volatility. Connect with a CFP® professional in your area.