Answering your questions about market volatility and retirement accounts

If you have investments and you faithfully contribute to your 401(k), you know (and expect) the markets will go up and down over time. It’s the nature of the beast.

But when the markets have bigger swings, it can make you a little uneasy. We understand that. Money and emotions are closely tied. Plus, you may be worried about job stability and looking to your retirement accounts for emergency cash.

We know you have questions. And while each person’s situation can be a little different, we want to help by answering some of most common ones we’ve heard from you.

Market-related questions

No one knows that. But in the last 150 years in the United States, we’ve been through wars, pandemics, and political changes. What happened with each downturn? The market met its floor and recovered. You never know what that floor will be until it’s turned around, but you can look back at trends. Read about how staying invested may help you in the long run.

Even the worst market declines have generally been followed by a significant recovery. Did you know that one year after the market dropped in 2008/2009, it rebounded by 53.5%?1 Read more about the importance of staying in the market.

It’s not likely, but as an investor, it’s always good to use times like this to revisit the types of investments you hold. Asset allocation (holding different asset classes that don’t typically move in tandem with one another) can help mitigate some of the risk of a falling market. Since we’ve been on an upward trend for more than 10 years, it’s likely your portfolio may need some reallocation. Read about some ways that may help you be prepared when markets are volatile.

Presidential election years often bring volatility because of the uncertainty. Stick with a well-diversified portfolio focused on your long-term goals rather than on the near-term “noise” of an election.

First, make sure your asset allocation continues to be in line with your long-term goal. Saving for retirement generally requires you to trade near-term gains for what may be long-term benefits. Having a goal and sticking with it may help you keep perspective during ups and downs.

If your asset allocation is still lined up with your goals and your time horizon is longer than five years, then you likely don’t need to make changes and can ride out the market volatility. If not, then realigning based on your goals, risk tolerance, and how long until you’ll need the money will help you achieve long-term success. Read more about asset allocation.

Investment-related questions

What’s best for you really depends on your goals, risk tolerance, and how long it will be before you need to withdraw the money. Read our case study that shows how putting money in a CD vs. staying in the market played out five years after the Great Recession of 2008.2

If you’re bailing out of your investments when the market is falling—financially, the worst time to sell—then you may want to limit your exposure to stocks. Sticking with a more conservative portfolio (fixed income/bonds) may earn you more in the long run than trying to time the market in an aggressive portfolio that’s mismatched to your risk tolerance.

It’s good to know you have the right investment mix based on your comfort with risk and how long you have until you need your assets. Take this short quiz (PDF) to see if the risk level of your investments fits your investing profile. When you know how much risk you’re willing to take, you’ll better understand how much reward you could expect. Read more about why investment risk matters.

A financial professional can help you plan and deal with the ups and downs of the market, and update or create a personalized financial plan. If you’d like to meet one face to face, we’ll help you find one, or you can see if a robo-advisor may be a good fit for you.

401(k) and IRA withdraws and loan questions

If you’re not permanently let go from your job, you may be eligible to take either a loan or another qualified plan withdrawal. If you’ve lost your job, you may be eligible for COVID-19 withdrawals. Each plan is different, so log in to your account to see what’s available. If you have issues, our Participant Contact Center can help.

Tip: Looking for some emergency cash to get you through this hard time? Read 6 better options for emergency cash than an early 401(k) withdrawal.

Due to the CARES Act, you may be eligible for a penalty-free withdrawal from your retirement plan or individual retirement account (IRA) if you, your spouse, or a dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19 or have experienced “adverse financial consequences” as a result of the pandemic.

The CARES Act waives the 10% early withdrawal penalty on retirement account distributions. This applies to IRAs, 401(k)s, and certain qualified retirement plans and annuities.

The maximum you can withdraw collectively from your accounts is $100,000 in 2020. The usual mandatory 20% withholding for qualified plan distributions does not apply, but the income from these distributions would be subject to taxes over three years. These distributions can be rolled over to a qualified plan or IRA within three years from the distribution.

This depends on your loan provisions. If your plan allows loans, the CARES Act increased the loan cap to $100,000 or 100% of your vested account balance, whichever is less, for loans taken within 180 days after the law passed. Your employer will need to adopt these increased loan limits. Log in to your account to see if your plan allows it and if you’re eligible.

If you have an outstanding loan from your retirement plan with repayment due in 2020, the CARES Act allows you to delay your repayments for up to one year. Future payments will be adjusted to account for the delay.

The CARES Act waives 2020 RMDs which can potentially be important if financial markets are slow to recover from recent declines. When you take an RMD, it’s taxable, so holding off is a way you may be able to reduce your income for 2020.

What’s next?

  • Visit our resource page for our latest market updates, information for individuals and families, insights for businesses, and an outlook for financial advisors and institutions.
  • Want to learn more about Bull and Bear Markets? Read about why those terms are used to describe market conditions.
  • Have a question that wasn't answered here? For immediate help contact us . If there's a topic or question you'd like to see us cover, email us at editor@principal.com.

1 Instances of high double-digit returns were achieved primarily during favorable market conditions and may not be sustainable over time. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Source: Wilshire Compass. Reflects S&P 500® Index returns. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index and investors cannot invest directly in an index.

2 Example for illustrative purposes. Returns related to a 2% interest-bearing CD. Market returns based on S&P index returns as of December 31, 2008 through December 31, 2013. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

Asset allocation and diversification do not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.

Equity investment options involve greater risk, including heightened volatility, than fixed-income investment options.

Fixed-income investments are subject to interest rate risk; as interest rates rise their value will decline.

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment advice or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.​

Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Co. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., 800-547-7754, member SIPC. Principal Life and Principal Securities are members of Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.