These are trying times we're living through, and many people want nothing more than to see 2020 come to an end. If you have a 401(k) plan, the moves you make in the next few months could have a profound impact on your retirement. Here are three critical strategies to adopt as we navigate the tail end of this volatile year.
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1. Increase your contribution rate if you can
Many people are struggling financially during our current recession, but if you're actually saving more money than ever -- whether by canceling vacations, not commuting to work, and spending little to nothing on leisure outside the home -- then it pays to take advantage by increasing your retirement savings rate. Once the pandemic is over, you may find that you're itching to travel more, go out to dinner twice a week, and do all of the things you've been forced to cut back on this year, and that means you may actually be tempted to reduce your retirement plan contributions temporarily. You can compensate in advance, however, by saving more this year.
2. Contribute enough to snag your full employer match
Though some employers have cut back on 401(k) matches during the ongoing recession, many have continued to offer it. And if there's a match available to you, it pays to snag it, because if you don't, you're effectively giving up free money. Find out what that match looks like and what you need to do to claim it in full. You may discover that boosting your savings rate ever so slightly gives you the maximum match you're entitled to. Also, remember that while you may be entitled to a certain match right now, that could change in the future if your employer's finances take a turn for the worse -- a potential recession side effect. Therefore, you might as well enjoy a more generous match while you can.
3. Be careful when taking a CARES Act withdrawal
Normally, withdrawing money from a 401(k) prior to age 59 1/2 results in a 10% penalty on the sum you remove. But thanks to the CARES Act, which was signed into law in late March to provide coronavirus relief, you can withdraw up to $100,000 penalty-free if the pandemic has impacted you.
But before you make plans to go that route, first, make sure it's even an option. Though most employers are letting savers take emergency withdrawals during the ongoing pandemic, not every plan is set up for this.
Next, make sure you qualify for a CARES Act withdrawal. You'll only avoid that 10% penalty if you can prove that you were impacted by the pandemic, whether via job loss, income loss, or being diagnosed with the virus itself. Keep in mind that if you have a spouse who's fallen ill or lost work, that counts as well. But if the COVID-19 crisis hasn't impacted you, you can't just get your money out penalty-free.
Finally, aim to only withdraw the minimum amount you need from your savings to get by. Though you're allowed to remove up to $100,000, every dollar you withdraw today is money you won't have available during your senior years, when you might need it even more. And remember, when you take a withdrawal, you also lose out on the chance to keep that money invested. A $10,000 withdrawal today could actually leave you $100,000 short in retirement if that milestone is 30 years away and your investments in your 401(k) generate an average annual 8% return, which is consistent with the stock market's average.
Managing your 401(k) wisely for the rest of the year could have a big long-term impact. It pays to employ these strategies between now and when 2020 comes to a close.