April 21, 2020 / Blog / Tracy Bridges
By Richard Eisenberg Money & Work Editor
Chances are, the coronavirus has upped your worries about your personal finances. And if you’re nearing, or in, retirement, the pandemic-triggered stock market plunge may be making you especially upset. So, my two Friends Talk Money podcast co-hosts and I just released a new episode specifically dealing with money advice for the pandemic.
Below are highlights from the episode. You can listen to the 35-minute podcast below or from anywhere you like to stream podcasts.
My co-host Terry Savage, a syndicated personal finance writer and author, offered a few tips about the 80 million stimulus checks the U.S. government is sending out. “You will get a letter in the mail from the government telling you how, where and when your stimulus payment is being sent,” Savage said. “And you can reach out and tell them if there’s a mistake.”
Those Stimulus Checks
Savage suggests visiting the Internal Revenue Service’s new Get My Payment site to check on the status of your stimulus money. You may need your 2019 federal income tax return (if you filed it; the deadline is July 15, 2020) and your 2018 federal income tax return.
Her depressing warning: “Unfortunately, there will be a lot of problems” with the stimulus-payment system, since it’s new, untested and in huge demand.
The stimulus checks are not taxable, Savage noted, and won’t affect eligibility for federal benefits.
Savage had important information specifically for parents: “If you have children under seventeen who are dependents on your tax return, you get an extra five hundred dollars in your stimulus check. But if your child is eighteen or older, you don’t.”
Retirement Planning in the Pandemic
Krueger, a small-investor advocate and creator of the Wealthramp site for finding a financial planner, offered an empathetic voice about retirement planning during the pandemic. “I don’t know anyone whose retirement plans are not impacted,” she said.
Krueger noted, as I wrote in my Next Avenue piece “3 Ways the COVID-19 Stimulus Law May Help Your Financial Problems,” that the recent CARES Act eases the rules for 401(k) withdrawals and loans before retirement.
But, she said: “Try as much as you can to avoid taking money out of tax-privileged retirement accounts to get through this time,” adding: “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Her reasoning? You’ll owe taxes on money you withdraw, plus you’ll miss out on potential earnings on what your 401(k) money would have earned if you hadn’t taken it out.
And Krueger also advised not selling any stocks or equity mutual funds solely because the market has dropped so much in 2020. “It’s a disaster to sell stocks at their lowest point,” she said.
The 4% Rule and Retirement Withdrawals
I noted the new analysis by retirement analyst Wade Pfau, a professor at The American College of Financial Services, on how the pandemic has changed his thinking about what’s known as “the 4% rule.” Traditionally, financial advisers have often recommended retirees taking out about 4% of their portfolio a year to make their money last their lifetimes. But due to today’s low interest rates and the stock market drop, he is now using 2.4% as his benchmark for retirees who take “moderate” investment risks.
Savage said Pfau’s view “makes perfect sense to me.” But Krueger scoffed at the withdrawal rule, saying “people are best served when they realistically assess what they need.”