The stock market continues to perform with relative resilience, despite the current economic decline. But to be clear, without 100 percent participation in the economy — in terms of small business job creation, consumer spending, and company growth and expansion — the stock market is apt to reposition prices to reflect slower growth. With no containment or control of the pandemic on the horizon, there is plenty of uncertainty associated with future financial planning.
Anyone looking to retire in the next 10 years or so may want to take a fresh look at their current retirement income plan. They might need a Plan A, B, and C in order to stay flexible — with C being the option to continue working longer. The following are portfolio tips to consider for a 10-year time frame until retirement.
If there was one financial tip worth following pre-pandemic, it was to have liquid cash savings of six months to a year’s worth of expenses available. Workers who did are probably pretty relieved about now if they lost their job or had hours reduced. Having substantial cash available can save you from raiding retirement accounts and/or your investment portfolio.
In preparation for retirement, that cash buffer is even more important. Some advisors recommend a liquid savings fund to cover one to three years’ worth of expenses. That’s because once you’re on a fixed income, you’re not likely to replenish that account. What it can do is supplement variable retirement income that is reliant on the markets. Having a cash buffer gives investments time to recover from temporary losses so you don’t have to plunder your principal.
Status of Social Security
While you may know what your benefit level is for retirement at a certain date, be aware that your benefit could change — even after you have retired. Recent research has found that, thanks to the loss of FICA revenues resulting from COVID-19, the Social Security Trust Fund might run out of money four years earlier than predicted: as early as 2032. You may want to consider other forms of reliable income in case your benefits are reduced in the future.
Speaking of reliable income, Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Wharton School’s Pension Research Council, recommends that an annuity option become a staple in employer-sponsored retirement plans. Annuities generally offer an option for issuer-guaranteed income for life. With 10 years until retirement, allocating money to an annuity can help build a separate income stream to supplement Social Security benefits. Even if your employer does not offer an annuity option in your 401(k) plan, you can purchase one separately using other assets.
Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans
Speaking of the 401(k), consider that when this plan was first established in 1980, the marginal federal income tax rate was 43 percent. Today’s tax rates are historically quite low, so for the time being you might want to consider allocating more savings into a Roth IRA. This means you will pay taxes on that money at today’s low rates but going forward it can grow tax-deferred and be withdrawn tax-free. But do not leave money on the table if your employer offers a matching 401(k) contribution. Roth IRA contributions are limited to $7,000 (2020) and some deferred income can help reduce your taxes today — so plan accordingly.
By the same token, you may want to take advantage of today’s lower tax rates by converting at least some traditional IRA funds to a Roth or by making backdoor Roth IRA contributions. Be aware, however, that you must pay taxes on converted funds, so consider a gradual transition over multiple years to help you stay in a lower tax bracket.
Some market analysts are predicting a “new normal” going forward, which could provide some interesting investment opportunities. Ideas include new operating business models based on a largely remote workforce, population spread as people move out of cities into more affordable rural areas, and innovations borne out of newly created demand. While a buy-and-hold strategy is common advice for equities, it’s important to stay flexible. As long as you remain within your customized asset allocation strategy, you might want to use your equity portion to explore new ideas that could offer higher return opportunities over the next decade.