I need my required minimum distributions (RMDs) to live on. Must I delay withdrawals? When I do, do you have any tips for not inflicting more pain on my retirement accounts than I need to?

Congress suspended 2020 RMDs so people wouldn't be forced to tap their retirement accounts in a bear market precipitated by the pandemic. But the suspension isn't mandatory. You can take withdrawals.

Even in normal times, a 10-year-old bull market is likelier to fall than to continue rising. One way to protect yourself is to reduce the percentage of riskier investments in your retirement account.

Assume your stocks could lose half their value in a prolonged bear market. That's what happened in the 2008-2009 bear market. Let's say your retirement account is 70% in stock mutual funds, 25% in bond funds and 5% in a money market fund. You can reduce your risk by moving money from your stock funds into your bond and/or cash funds. (There are no tax consequences when you transfer money between investments inside a retirement account.)

And if you take RMDs from stock funds that are performing well, you'll be selling high and reducing your investment risk at the same time.

It's wise to keep some stock investments, because over many years they can grow your money enough to keep pace with the cost of living. Even retirees need long-term investments. A healthy 65-year-old man today can expect to live into his 80s, and a healthy 65-year-old woman into her 90s. But consider a more conservative mix — say, 45% to 40% in stock funds, 45% to 40% in bond funds and 10% to 20% in cash.

The bottom line

Keep your retirement account diversified between stocks, bonds and cash, in a mix that fits your risk tolerance.

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