Until there’s a coronavirus vaccine, many Americans are playing it safe and squirreling away their cash

Christel Deskins

The U.S. personal savings rate hit a record 33 percent in April, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The rate has been going down since then, hitting 17.8 percent in July. Still, the data shows that many people are able to save. Gallup and Franklin Templeton released a survey […]

The U.S. personal savings rate hit a record 33 percent in April, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The rate has been going down since then, hitting 17.8 percent in July. Still, the data shows that many people are able to save.

Gallup and Franklin Templeton released a survey that found 54 percent of Americans are saving at least a little money, and until there’s a vaccine, they largely plan to keep stashing it away. The survey was conducted Aug. 3-11.

“A lot of people are just waiting on the vaccine to be developed to continue their normal spending,” Grant Buckles, a senior research consultant who worked on the survey, said in an interview. “People are making judgments, not necessarily about their personal health, but about the economy. And everyone knows that for the economy to fully reopen, we need a reliable vaccine.”

In July, to better gauge and forecast the financial impact of the pandemic, Franklin Templeton and Gallup announced a partnership to look at the economic realities of the novel coronavirus. Each month, researchers are interviewing thousands of U.S. adults to understand their behaviors and attitudes toward resuming pre-virus behaviors, according to Stephanie Marken, executive director of education research at Gallup.

“According to epidemiologists, the U.S. remains in its first wave of cases, and they warn that a second wave could hit in the fall of 2020, ensuring that reopening the economy will likely include many starts and stops as states grapple with public health concerns and the reality of continued disruptions to business operations,” Marken wrote in announcing the joint venture.

In this latest study, they asked: What do you plan to do with your increased savings over the next six months? Among Americans who can afford to save:

— 76 percent are planning to continue to add to their savings.

— 28 percent will do some spending, purchasing basic goods and services.

— 13 percent plan on paying for a vacation or personal travel.

— 10 percent have targeted the savings to pay off debts.

One interesting finding was what people were doing with their extra funds.

Most — 79 percent — are squirreling the money away in their checking or savings accounts. Only 24 percent have increased their contributions to retirement accounts, 17 percent have invested in the stock or bond markets, 5 percent have put it into real estate and just 3 percent have invested in other assets, such as cryptocurrency.

Rather than taking risks, people are keeping their money liquid, Buckles said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “For the time being, I think people want to make sure that they have money for necessities. I think those who are able to save will continue to keep those assets available. We will see more people dipping into those savings if the economy continues to tread water and we don’t see much improvement in the unemployment rate.”

Reader Question of the Week

If you have a personal finance or retirement question, send it to [email protected] In the subject line, put “Question of the Week.”

This week’s answers come from Erin Voisin, director of financial planning at California-based EP Wealth Advisors.

Q: I withdrew a portion of my 2020 required minimum distribution (RMD) in the form of a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). Accordingly, my IRA custodian wrote checks to various charities from my IRA. Subsequently, the Cares Act waived the RMD for 2020. I refunded my IRA from my personal checking account. The net effect is that the charities received my donations from my personal account. Does that mean I can now take an itemized charitable contribution deduction for these amounts?

Voisin: Yes, because you will not be listing the QCD on your tax return. I would itemize these.

Q: I have multiple retirement accounts — 401(k), IRA — and will have to take RMDs at 72. The total percentage will be 10 percent. Will I have to withdraw money from all of the accounts?

Voisin: You can choose to take that 10 percent out of one single IRA if you wanted. The total RMD is calculated based on the total of the assets, and then from there, you have flexibility on which accounts you draw it from. Keep in mind, if you are still working past age 72, then you can potentially avoid RMDs from active 401(k)s or other employer-sponsored retirement plans. You would want to consult with your financial adviser to ensure that you are taking the right amount from the right accounts.

Retirement Rants and Raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. You can rant or rave. Send your comments to [email protected] Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

“We retired in 2014 and started traveling internationally,” wrote Greg Leisner of Milwaukee. “We mostly, but not exclusively, visit archaeological sites. We both are happy that we discovered this love of history and prehistory. Then came the pandemic and Trump’s disastrous handling of the crisis. This threat to our retirement pursuit was mostly avoidable, and we could have been back in Europe this year.”

Leisner went on to write: “The pandemic is a natural disaster. People everywhere are suffering because of it, and we all need help. We do this primarily through governments. States were set against each other for critically needed supplies. The federal government failed to organize the production of personal protective equipment. Pandemic isolation measures were left to the states, who sometimes left them to counties or cities. Sometimes, amazingly, isolation measures were forbidden. A disaster upon a disaster mismanaged from the top. I don’t know when I can travel internationally again or which nations will be willing to accept me as a visitor. I don’t know how much of my own resources I will need to direct to help my kids work through their financial troubles from this mess. I had a plan for retirement, and it was working wonderfully for me. I led a modest life and saved to travel in retirement to see and experience the wonders of the world and of the various human civilizations that have thrived upon it. Not only has my plan been severely disrupted by this pandemic, my government’s incredibly incompetent response has delayed and damaged the hope of getting my retirement dream-come-true back on track.”

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