What a bear market really means for your 401(k)

Pedestrians pass the New York Stock Exchange
A financial planner would tell you not to cut retirement contributions simply because stock prices are falling. The logical response to a bear market is to invest more, not less.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

Dear Liz: With the stock market tanking and no rebound likely in the near future, should I decrease the amount I am contributing toward my retirement? I earn a high-five-figure salary and currently contribute 25% of my pay to my company’s 401(k). The current balance is $450,000 with about two-thirds held in a 2030 target date fund and the remainder in a 2035 target date fund. I hope to retire at the end of 2030 at age 64. I have no other retirement accounts, but I am married and my husband collects Social Security and a pension.

It’s hard putting hundreds of dollars into my 401(k) every two weeks only to watch it seemingly disappear. Would it be smart to decrease the percentage I contribute by 5% to 7% and then use that extra money to pay down a $40,000 home equity line of credit? Or should I just stay the course, keep my percentage the same and ride out this bear market?

Answer: Since you’re within 10 years of retirement, it’s time to hire a fee-only financial planner to get specific, individualized advice about your situation. The decisions you make in the years immediately before and after retirement can have a huge impact on how long your money lasts. Mistakes made in this time frame can be difficult if not impossible to reverse.

Take, for example, this impulse to reduce your contribution rate. Your money isn’t disappearing; it’s being used to buy stocks at a discount. When the market rebounds, as it inevitably will, those shares you bought on sale will benefit from the growth.


A planner would tell you not to cut retirement contributions simply because stocks had entered a bear market. The logical response to a bear market is to invest more, not less.

That said, variable rate debt is getting more expensive thanks to Federal Reserve Bank rate hikes. Reducing your 401(k) contributions a few percentage points to pay off that debt faster could make sense, especially if you’re not giving up free money in the form of a company match and your reduced savings rate will still allow you to retire on time.

Again, a fee-only financial planner could help you weigh your options and recommend the best path.

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Investigate a credit score drop

Dear Liz: I had an 836 credit score as of last week. I’m a business owner and have been using my company credit card to pay bills on a large project to get 2% cash back. I charged $52,000 of the $70,000 I have available on that one card. (I have about $175,000 available across the three business cards I have) and my credit score went down to 699! I pay my cards off within days of receiving my statements. Is this a bad use of my cards? How long do you think it will take to get my score back up? Side note: I don’t need any more credit, but my business line of credit is coming up for renewal and I am buying a new truck in two months. Do you think this will be an issue?

Answer: Lower scores could cause you to pay more for credit, so it’s worth fixing this issue promptly.

There’s nothing wrong with using your cards to get rewards, as long as you’re paying your balances in full and not using too much of your available credit. Ideally, you’d use less than 10% of the limit on any card at any given time. (Credit scoring formulas pay close attention to the amount of credit you’re using on each revolving account as well as how much of your available credit you’re using overall.)


If you need to use a lot more of your credit limit, consider making more than one payment a month. Some people make bi-weekly or even weekly payments to keep their balances low.

(The balances that factor into your scores are typically the amounts that you owe on your statement closing date.)

Credit card issuers typically report to the credit bureaus every month, so it shouldn’t take more than 30 days for lower balances to improve your scores.

It’s a little unusual, however, for a business credit card to affect your personal credit scores. Typically, business accounts don’t show up on your credit reports, even if you used your personal credit history to apply for the cards. You may want to pull your three credit reports from to see if other problems may have contributed to your score drop.

Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at