The year 2020 has not been the start to the decade that most of us were expecting. It's the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a year of significant adversity, and one that's taken a financial toll as well as an emotional one for many. It has created its share of problems now and left people uncertain about the future.
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Retirement confidence during the first quarter of 2020 was at a 30-year high, according to the Wells Fargo Investor and Retirement Optimism Index, but that plummeted to a seven-year low in the second quarter as the pandemic really took hold. That doesn't mean retirement is off the table for a lot of these individuals, though they might have to go back to the drawing board with their retirement plans.
If you're worried about your ability to retire, here are some things you can do to improve your retirement optimism starting right now.
What's behind the loss in retirement optimism?
COVID-19 and the subsequent nationwide lockdown are the biggest factors dampening investors' outlook on retirement. Approximately 27% of those surveyed by Wells Fargo reported a loss of income, 15% said they'd been furloughed or laid off, and 1% lost their jobs permanently. Without a regular source of income, it's more difficult to save money for retirement, and without access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, most people can only contribute to IRAs, which have their benefits but are limited by their low contribution limits.
Some of those surveyed also reported that the pandemic forced them to assume more financial responsibility for family members, placing further strain on their budget and making it even more difficult to find room for retirement savings.
And then there's the fact that many watched their retirement portfolios drop since the beginning of the year as the stock market has taken a downturn. Their assets are now worth less than they used to be, and that's especially problematic for older adults who are nearing retirement age and plan to use their savings soon.
What to do to improve your retirement optimism
The most important thing you can do is avoid making any emotional decisions right now, especially regarding your investments. It will take time to recover from this recession, but selling off assets that are performing poorly and guessing at what's going to do well could make things more difficult for you.
Instead, focus on adjusting your retirement plan to account for the present circumstances. To start, redo your retirement calculations when you have money coming in again, so you can figure out how much you need to save monthly going forward in order to have the retirement you want.
If you're unable to save as much as you need to, consider altering your retirement plan. About 30% of investors Wells Fargo surveyed said they plan to delay their retirement as a result of the recent economic downturn, and it's a smart play if you're able to work longer because it'll give your savings more time to rebound and give you extra time to contribute additional savings while also reducing the cost of your retirement.
You could also supplement your retirement savings with part-time income from a side hustle. This doesn't have to be what you do for a living now. You could choose something that better aligns with your interests, so it doesn't feel as much like work. Just remember that side hustle income is still taxable, so you must remember to set aside a portion of it for the government every month.
Altering your Social Security plans is another option, particularly if you planned to claim right away at 62. Doing so reduces your benefit checks by up to 30%, and that could result in less money over your lifetime. If you want your normal benefit based on your work record, you must wait until your full retirement age (FRA) -- 66 or 67, depending on your birth year -- to claim. You can also continue delaying until 70 when you get your largest possible monthly benefit, or start anywhere in between.
Delaying Social Security benefits places a greater burden on you in the early years of your retirement, but if you expect to live into your late 80s or beyond, there's a good chance you'll get more money from the program by delaying benefits for a while than by starting right away. These larger checks will go further later on in your retirement, helping your personal savings to last longer.
There's no doubt these are challenging times, and complete recovery is going to take years. But if you're proactive about it, saving what you can, and updating your retirement plan regularly, you can help speed your recovery time.