You CAN Retire in a Recession

At long last, after years of planning and saving, retirement plan contributions, and stock option purchases, you have just rolled your company plan over into a self-directed individual retirement account (IRA) in anticipation of a comfortable retirement.

However, you have retired in the middle of a recession, with a volatile stock market, fluctuating energy prices, and low-interest rates. Here are some measures you can take to keep stormy economic conditions from drowning your retirement plans.

Key Takeaways

  • A part-time job can reduce your withdrawals from your retirement accounts, allowing the balance to recover from a market correction.
  • A little spare cash in an index fund, invested during a downturn, can turn the recession into a moneymaker for you.
  • An annuity can create a steady stream of income, and some of your IRA funds can be transferred to purchase it.

To Retire or Not to Retire

Whether you should postpone retiring will ultimately depend on several factors. One of the first issues to consider is whether you want to stop working completely or perhaps take a part-time job after you leave your full-time employment.

This could be an opportunity to explore your interests or hobbies in a lucrative way. You could become a personal trainer, cater small events, walk dogs, fix cars or computers—whatever you enjoy and can earn a little extra money doing.

If you work 20 hours a week at a job paying $12 per hour, you will earn $960 per month or close to $12,000 per year. That is equivalent to nearly a 12% annual distribution on a portfolio valued at $100,000. Work-at-home jobs are also becoming increasingly viable.

Those with writing ability may be surprised to discover they can make a living in front of their computers, particularly if they are knowledgeable about a specific subject that is of interest to others. If you have spent a substantial amount of time in certain fields, you could be the expert companies are looking for to provide articles and discussion to incoming classes of workers.

Key Benefits of Working Part-Time

Working part-time or taking a freelance job later in life can provide two other key benefits in addition to the actual income earned.

You may be able to postpone your Social Security benefits or other retirement account distributions for a few years, which means that your monthly checks will be larger when you begin receiving them. If you were to work for another five years after quitting your current job, it could mean thousands of dollars more in Social Security money for the rest of your life.

Your portfolio will have time to recover if you have sustained market losses over the past few years. If the $200,000 that was in your 401(k) plan a year ago is now worth only $150,000, then consider socking it away in five-year Certificates of Deposit (CDs) while you continue working. If the CDs pay 5%, your portfolio would be worth over $190,000 at maturity with no market risk.

Time to Buy?

History shows that those who are brave enough to jump into the financial markets during periods of recession can reap big returns over the following years. Those who bought into the S&P 500 index on October 20, 1987—the day after the Black Monday crash—would have been up just over 50% two years later. Those who invested in the index late in 1982, as the market began to recover from a recession, would have seen a 61% gain in two years.

If you have some savings in cash or cash equivalents, you may want to seriously consider investing at least a portion in one of the broader indexes, such as through an index fund. Of course, this strategy is not for the risk-averse and should be considered carefully before any action is taken.

A judicious investment during a bear market may do wonders for your overall portfolio value over the next few years. For example, assume that a retiree in the situation described above has an additional $50,000 in a money market fund. If the retiree invested the amount in an index fund and earned a return similar to the aforementioned examples, then much of the loss sustained previously could be recouped in a relatively short time.

Of course, the money used for this type of rebound investment should not be drawn upon as income. Other, more stable funds or a part-time job should be used for this purpose.

Other Investment Strategies

Buying the market at or near the bottom is not the only option for those seeking to bolster their portfolios. Many variable annuity carriers offer dollar-cost averaging programs for new money, such as IRA rollovers.

The funds are initially placed in a guaranteed fixed account that generally pays a higher rate than CDs or standard fixed-income investments. The contract owner will then examine the selection of mutual fund subaccounts within the annuity and create a set portfolio commensurate with his or her risk tolerance, investment objective (which is most likely long-term growth), and time horizon. A set portion of the account balance is then systematically transferred into the subaccount portfolio over a set period of time, usually six to 12 months.

Variable Annuity

A variable annuity can be a way to profit from market volatility while earning a decent rate in a fixed account at the same time. But once the entire balance has been transferred into the market, you can continue to enhance your return by periodically rebalancing your portfolio.

This service is now a standard feature inside most variable contracts, and functions as a continuing dollar-cost averaging strategy by systematically investing the same amount over time, allowing more shares to be purchased when costs are low, and fewer shares to be bought when costs are higher. This strategy effectively keeps the initial portfolio allocation constant over time and increases your overall return on capital as well.

Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract (QLAC)

A qualified longevity annuity contract (QLAC) is a type of deferred annuity funded with an investment from a such as a 401(k), a 403(b), or an IRA. A QLAC can be turned into a lifetime income stream that is shielded from stock market corrections. Also, the QLAC is exempt from the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that require distributions from a traditional IRA or 401(k) once the owner turns age 73. (The age was raised from 72 as of Jan. 1, 2023.)

Under current IRS rules, an individual can spend 25% or $145,000 (whichever is less) of their retirement savings account or IRA to buy a QLAC in 2022.


In December 2019, then-President Trump signed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act as part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act. Part of the Act was designed to increase the number of annuity contracts.

However, there is a “fiduciary safe harbor” rule that lowers the risk of a plan participant having to sue the plan fiduciary if the insurance company cannot pay on the annuity as promised. Additionally, annuities sold inside qualified plans can be rolled out of the plan “in kind.”

Profit From Your Losses

Finally, this can be a good time to reap some capital losses if you have any depreciated securities outside your retirement plan. Even stocks that you plan on holding for the long term can yield some capital losses if you are willing to part with them temporarily, and of course, paying special attention to the wash-sale rules. But a substantial capital loss that is realized now can provide a $3,000 carryover deduction for the next few years.

This strategy can be used with any type of individual security, though municipal bonds are most commonly used.

Is it a Bad Idea to Retire During a Recession?

Recessions come and go, and if one comes just as you retire, you might freak out at the sight of your suddenly-depleted 401(k) balance. Just remember, it will come back, and it can even come back bigger if you take the right investing steps during the downturn.

Practically speaking, you might not want to further deplete your retirement account when it has already suffered losses from market volatility. You might consider working part-time in a field that interests you. You don't have to make a ton of money, just enough to replace what you otherwise would have to take out of your retirement accounts.

You also can plan for the recovery ahead. Consider putting a little money into beaten-down stocks that you know are trading for less than they're worth.

What Is the Danger of Retiring During a Recession

If you're retiring when the economy is in a slump, your retirement savings are almost certainly at a low point. Drawing upon your savings immediately will further deplete the balance and reduce the amount you'll get back as your investments recover.

Meanwhile, your living costs are not going down, unless you're taking active steps to reduce them. If you haven't already, you might consider downsizing your home, reducing unnecessary spending, or getting a part-time job to supplement your income for the present.

How Long Does a Recession Last?

The average length of a recession is 10 months. The Great Recession lasted for 18 months. The COVID-19 recession was over in two months.

So, whether you're retired or working, a recession is always a temporary problem.

The Bottom Line

Although retiring during a recession or bear market might seem worrisome, there are several things retirees can do to shield their portfolios from long-term fallout. Realizing capital losses, dollar-cost averaging, and portfolio rebalancing are just some of the strategies you can use to keep yourself afloat in choppy market waters.

Making rational decisions is of paramount importance during this critical time. Those who think with their heads and do not act out of fear can often profit substantially during these periods.

Article Sources
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