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Can I Still Retire? How COVID-19 Is Affecting Retirement Plans Right Now

Hi again everyone. Kyle Davis here - independent retirement planner in Orlando, FL. The first half of 2020 has been a whirlwind, wouldn't you agree? Citizens around the globe have been feeling the detrimental physical and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 21, 2020, deaths in America climbed above 39,000. Throughout March and April, families across the country have continued to practice social distancing and each state has laid out strict stay-at-home orders.1

On the financial side of things, investors are experiencing the market volatility and economic turmoil of a bear market. I've said it before and I'll say it again - volatility is the word of the year. While some may have time to “ride out the storm,” retirees and soon-to-be retirees across the country do not. A lot of people are worried about what all of this means for their retirement.

Let's discuss the impact COVID-19 may have on your plans for retirement, as well as recent legislation passed in America just recently that gives many people a little bit more flexibility and choice during this time.

401(k)s & IRAs

As of March 11, 2020, we officially entered a bear market. And as we continue to endure this pandemic, the market to no surprise continues to experience volatility. Even after the pandemic passes, there’s no guarantee that the market will bounce back quickly - no one can know for sure what will happen in the coming months. Businesses are shutting their doors, investors are worried, and overall financial confidence is low. In fact, heard a numbers estimate from a friend this morning on an actual percentage of small business that will fold this year, but regardless of getting down to the exact percentage it's a fact that many businesses will not make it.

For retirees, this market volatility likely has made some sort of impact on your retirement accounts. I would be shocked if it hasn't. Depending on the makeup of your portfolio, the level of impact could vary. But if retirement is already here or right around the corner, this downward trending market could lessen the value of your available funds.

Some pre-retirees may have the option to put off retirement until the market stabilizes, others may not. In an attempt to help retirees and pre-retirees facing financial difficulties, the government has passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act - which can impact your 401(k), IRA or other retirement accounts.

The CARES Act Impact on 401(k)s and IRAs

Here are some ways in which the CARES Act has created financial savings or relief opportunities for those nearing or in retirement. We've addressed the CARES Act in a previous blog, but I want to reiterate and also discuss RMD's (Required Minimum Distributions).

Waiving Required Minimum Distributions

In Section 2203 titled, “Temporary Waiver of Required Minimum Distribution Rules for Certain Retirement Plans and Accounts,” those who are typically required to take minimum distributions from their retirement savings accounts will not be required to do so for the remainder of 2020.2

If you originally planned to take withdrawals from your accounts this year because you were required to do so, you now have the opportunity to leave that money where it is. This gives retirees a chance to let their money grow a little longer and, hopefully, gain back some value lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Of course, if you still need to withdraw from your accounts, you can. But for those who were only planning on withdrawing because they had to, this change offers retirees the opportunity to reduce their tax bill come tax season. More flexibility during an unusual time is a positive thing.

Penalty-Free 401(k) and IRA Withdrawals

As we discussed prior, established in Section 2202 of the CARES Act, you have the option to withdraw up to $100,000 from your 401(k), 403(b) or IRA account.2 This opportunity is open to anyone who has been impacted directly by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Examples of qualifying impacted individuals include:

  • Someone who has contracted the virus
  • Those caring for an immediate family member who has the virus
  •  Anyone experiencing financial distress due to being furloughed or laid off during the pandemic
  • Business owners who needed to cease operation or reduce hours
  • Any additional circumstance in which the IRS deems acceptable2

With this change in policy, the typical 10 percent early-withdrawal penalty has been waived for qualifying individuals (based on the list above) who choose to withdraw before the age of 59 ½. In addition, you have the option to spread the tax liability of this additional income over the next three years. 

Other types of retirement plans, such as money purchase pension plans or defined benefit and cash balance plans, are not discussed in the CARES Act in regards to penalty-free early withdrawals. Therefore, as of April 21, the penalty-free early withdrawal option does not apply to these types of plans.

Withdrawing any amount early from your retirement plan is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, as you are taking income away from your future retirement. If you are in a situation in which you are considering this option, it’s wise to speak first with your financial advisor, as they may be able to present other options.

Tax Deadline Extended

On March 21, 2020, the IRS and Treasury Department announced an extension for tax filing and payments. This means that Americans have until July 15, 2020 to file their federal tax return.3 How does this affect your retirement? Because you now have three extra months to contribute money to your 401(k) or IRA. This means that if you’d neglected to contribute as much as you wanted to your retirement accounts, you have some extra time to do so. Plus, contributing now can help lower your tax obligation for the 2019 tax season come July 15.   

What About Social Security?

COVID-19, as of mid-April, has had no impact on current Social Security benefits. If you’re already utilizing them or planning to claim Social Security in the near future, there has been no change and you can proceed as planned.

Planning for and navigating retirement income is already a challenge in itself. With the extra stress and confusion brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever you need to have a good grasp on your options. After reviewing the changes in legislation outlined above, it may be best to reach out to your financial advisor. He or she can offer you peace of mind in knowing your retirement will remain on track and help determine how these changes may have affected your retirement on an individual level.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html
  2. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/748/
  3. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-day-now-july-15-treasury-irs-extend-filing-deadline-and-federal-tax-payments-regardless-of-amount-owed
About the author: Kyle A. Davis is a Chartered Financial Consultant® , Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® , and president of Integrity Financial Group in Orlando, FL. He is a Florida  native and an advocate for financial literacy and practical money  education. When not assisting clients in planning for retirement, he  creates educational videos on financial wellness on his YouTube Channel -  https://www.youtube.com/user/financialplannerinfl
This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as investment, tax, or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.
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