How to deal with market volatility if you’re retiring soon

Ned Ehrbar
Producer

This season’s market volatility can give any investor vertigo. But for those looking to retire in the next five years, the fluctuations are even more unsettling. CPA, author and retirement expert Ed Slott has some advice about what investors should be doing to protect themselves in these tumultuous times.

“As you get closer to retirement, income is more important than savings because savings — especially if they’re in the market — are not guaranteed, and savings can run out,” Slott tells Yahoo Finance.

“Short-term money has to be more secure. If you need the money on Thursday, you shouldn’t be in the market,” he says. “But if you need it in five or 10 years, then you can ride out a market correction like this.”

For investors close to retirement who do have money in the market, Slott urges caution. Overreacting to a declining market can put investors into situation known as a sequence-of-returns risk.

“If you’re pulling out money while the market is declining, you need to make a lot more money just to get back to even at double the rate and double the risk,” he says. “You can’t have dramatic reactions to something. It’s too much of a shock to the system,” Slott adds.

The best way for soon-to-be retirees to approach market volatility is to buck conventional wisdom and walk away as soon as things have bounced back — even if it feels wrong to do so.

“When the market comes back, nobody wants to pull money out because it’s riding high,” Slott says. “That’s the time you might want to lock in some of those gains and pull it off the table and put it into a guaranteed income source,” such as annuities.

Last-minute retirement tips for the rest of 2018

With the year quickly winding down, there are still a few moves you can make to maximize your savings. Chief among them, according to Slott, is a Roth conversion, the process of moving money out of a conventional IRA into a Roth IRA and paying taxes now on the amount you convert.

“The last thing you want to think about is a tax maneuver while the market is declining, but there are three things happening now that make Roth conversions at year-end very favorable,” Slott says. “Number one, the market is declining so the values are lower. Tax rates are lower after the new tax law — they’re lower for most people — and you’re at the end of the year,” so you have a clear picture of your income and tax bracket.

“The benefit of paying tax now is that once it’s in a Roth IRA, it’s tax-free forever,” he says. You pay tax on today’s value, but if values are down, now is the time to strike. It’s like buying the taxes on sale.”

One key to keep in mind is that Roth conversions are not the same as IRA contributions — and they each have their own deadlines. While you have until April to make 2018 contributions to an IRA, Roth conversions for 2018 have to be completed in 2018 — meaning by Dec. 31.

Additionally, recent changes to the law have made Roth conversions permanent, so you have to be sure you want to move the money over since there are no do-overs.

This article was originally published December 18, 2018.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter.

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