How COVID-19 Changed Retirement for Everyone

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PeopleImages / Getty Images

The coronavirus has wreaked havoc all across America, with skyrocketing unemployment, a volatile stock market and countless businesses going under. One group that has been hit particularly hard has been retirees, or those looking to retire soon. Between the loss of income, dropping 401(k) values and general uncertainty, it’s been a hard time to plan a stable financial future.

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Yet, there are some green shoots among all the difficulty, and with some preparation, you may be able to take advantage the pandemic upheaval. Here’s a look at how COVID-19 has changed retirement for everyone, and what you can do to adjust your preparations for the future.

Last updated: Aug. 11, 2021

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You May Retire Earlier Than Expected

Job losses across the country have meant that many Americans may have to adjust their retirement dates. If you’re nearing retirement and have been laid off, you may find yourself in the position where you’ll have to retire earlier than expected.

For some, this may actually be a benefit. If you’re able to snag an early retirement or buyout package, you might get a financial boost to kick-start your retirement, even if it’s earlier than you originally planned. If not, you might have to adjust your retirement budget to live on what you have, or perhaps adjust your Social Security strategy and start drawing early.

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You May Retire Later Than Expected

Although the effects of COVID-19 may force you to retire early, it’s also entirely possible that the coronavirus pandemic will make you retire later than expected. If you’ve lost your job or been forced to cut your hours, your income and savings may not be quite enough for you to retire when you originally planned. You may have to find a new job, work longer hours or even work additional years to make up the current shortfall.

The good news in this scenario is that your investments will have a longer time to compound. Similarly, if you can defer your Social Security payments for a few years, you’ll eventually receive a higher payout there as well.

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You May Not Travel as Much as You’d Planned

One of the goals for many retirees is to travel more. In the COVID-19 era, however, those dreams may have to be postponed, if not stifled altogether. In addition to global travel restrictions, the risk factors that apply to older individuals make travel a nonstarter at this point. If you haven’t quite retired but have lost your job, travel is a discretionary expense that will have to wait.

On the plus side, if you have already retired and have a secure nest egg, travel may turn out to be a great bargain in the near future. Many companies, including airlines, currently offer free cancellations for trips far into the future, along with great prices. If you’re financially secure and able to be patient, you may still be able to score some deals and enjoy traveling down the road.

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Your 401(k) May Have Lost a Step

If you’re closing in on retirement and have had a 401(k) account for 30-plus years, you may have gotten used to strong long-term returns. However, 2020 may have cost your 401(k). Although the broad market has recovered admirably from the March 2020 market selloff, many stocks have been left behind.

If you got scared during that massive, dramatic fall and sold some or all of your positions, you might have missed out on the market’s rapid bounce back. Either way, your 401(k) might be a bit behind where you thought it would be right now. You might have to increase your contributions or wait a bit longer until your 401(k) balance hits the level you want by the time you retire.

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You May Face an Unexpected Payroll Tax Hit

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump passed an executive order deferring payment of the payroll tax for employees from Sept. 1 through the end of the year. While this might translate into extra money in your pocket through the rest of 2020, there’s a catch. The executive order calls for payroll tax deferral, not absolution. This means that come 2021, you’ll still be liable for the tax you owe.

If you’re unaware of this, or if you’ve already spent the extra money, you might find yourself in a bind when you have to pay additional tax in 2021.

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Your House May Be Worth More Than You Think

Not all effects of the coronavirus pandemic are gloomy. In fact, if you’re a homeowner, you may be in luck. The work-from-home movement, which was already gaining momentum before COVID-19, has become a way of life for companies across America that are forcing their employees to work remotely. Coupled with closed businesses and services in cities, this movement has resulted in a surge in demand for housing in suburbs and more remote locations.

As a result, home values in these areas have been rising throughout 2020. This unexpected boost in some home values may help pave the way for a more secure retirement for these types of homeowners.

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