Market volatility and bruising sell-offs can mean a world of hurt for your investment and retirement accounts, but that doesn’t mean you should change your retirement strategy too much.
It seems like a good chunk of people aren’t heeding that advice, though. The Alight Solutions 401(k) Index tracks daily trading activity within 401(k) plans provided by many larger companies, and the most recent data proves that point.
Feb. 28 marked the end of a particularly terrible week for stock markets, and the Alight Solutions data showed trading activity was up 15.8 times the average, which was the highest reading ever.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average had temporarily lost over 1,000 points that day, and the Federal Reserve announced it would take action to aid the ongoing economic expansion. It goes to show that fear is a major driver of market moves, but even this activity was a rarity.
“Even in the depths of the financial meltdown in October 2008, we didn’t see this type of abnormality,” Alight Research head Rob Austin told CNBC.
The biggest thing to remember when it comes to your retirement plans and your 401(k) is that your situation is unique to you.
“Most people should do what’s good for them, agnostic of what the market is doing,” Alliant Retirement Consulting Senior Vice President Aaron Pottichen said. “No one can time if the market is going to go up or down. But we do have control over what our plan is.”
Look at Your Own Retirement Situation
Age should probably be the biggest factor for your retirement savings decisions. And as you get older you should consider paring back your exposure to higher-risk investments.
“If you’re 70 years old, you have no business having 70% of your money in the stock market,” Certified Financial Planner Ted Jenkin said. “You should have 70% of your money in fixed income.”
Another way to consider investing is setting short- and long-term goals, and using safer investing strategies for money that you need sooner. Riskier opportunities could be considered for money that won’t be touched for a long time.
“Stock ownership should always be for a long-term hold: five-plus years,” CFP Scott Hanson said. He went on to suggest selling any assets that are earmarked for an upcoming expense.
Returns on those investments will be lower, but you also don’t risk losing 20% to 30% of that money, Hansen added.
Retirement Planning and Buying the Dip
When markets are swinging like they have been it can present some opportunities to buy. But of course, as always, you have to consider your own unique situation.
Contributing more to your 401(k) when the markets are lower can be a big boost when stocks eventually recover.
“That can be a really good opportunity,” Jenkin said.
If taking on a ton of new risk or upping your 401(k) contributions for a prolonged period of time doesn’t sound appealing, Jenkin recommends contacting your payroll department and looking into increasing your contributions for one pay period. The biggest thing is to make sure you are still bringing in enough from each paycheck to keep the lights on.
Markets always recover but it’s definitely not fun to look at your savings seemingly blowing away with every new headline about the coronavirus. Taking a step back and considering your own situation, while also consulting a financial adviser if possible, can help you develop the best retirement savings plan that works for you.