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You really should resist the siren call of cashing out your 401(k)

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Back away from your 401(k).

Now is not the time to grab your money and go.

Recent changes stemming from the CARES Act, the stimulus package passed Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in March, give you greater access to the money before retirement without penalty. Keep in mind, the easier borrowing or withdrawing options are available only if you are impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Another change to be aware of: Employers might cut back how much matching money they give employees for retirement funds.

Here's who is eligible to tap their 401(k) under CARES Act rule changes
Here's who is eligible to tap their 401(k) under CARES Act rule changes

When the stock market is swinging wildly, it may feel pointless to sock money away into an investment account. You also might think it's better to snatch out what's already there. But the market always comes back, experts say — and the company-sponsored investment account is still your ticket to a solid retirement.

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What if it never comes back?

Notorious gangster Al Capone attempts to help unemployed men with his soup kitchen "Big Al's Kitchen for the Needy." The kitchen provided three meals a day consisting of soup with meat, bread, coffee, and doughnuts, feeding about 3500 people daily at a cost of $300 per day.

Certified financial planner Kelly Campbell points out that the Great Depression was the worst market ever, and it eventually came back up.

People panicked on Black Monday 1987. They were upset about the bust in 2000. The crash in 2007-2008 sparked a lot of dire predictions. Each time, people proclaimed it would be different, said Campbell, chairman and CEO of Campbell Wealth Management in Alexandria, Virginia.

By "different" they meant an underlying cause of the market plunging meant recovery would not take place.

But it did.

"This is a whole new experience," he added. "But the stock market is still the stock market.

"It's always gone down and come back up."

If it makes you feel any better, experts are already weighing in and analyzing recovery scenarios.

Time is on your side


It's natural to be anxious about investing. Beginning investors with decades until retirement should run through a few points to allay their fears, says Dan Keady, chief financial planning strategist at TIAA, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"Put down your time horizon and your purpose," Keady said. Remind yourself what you're saving this money for: retirement.

That's a long way off. "Young people have 20, 30, 40 years to make back what's happened," said David Blanchett, head of retirement research for Morningstar Investment Management.

Don't stuff it under your mattress

Zachary Scott | Stone | Getty Images

You may think fleeing the market is making one decision, but it's really two: when to exit and when to go back in. "That second decision winds up being problematic," Kelly said.

The market may continue to fall, which feels gratifying when your money is sitting safely in a savings account.

"But you're not going to go back in till the market's way back up," Blanchett said. "By the time you feel safe, the markets will be well past the point where you sold out." In other words, for the time your money was out of the stock market, you missed out on gains.

What would Warren do?

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Lacy O'Toole | CNBC

People who study decades of stock market performance see recurring themes. Markets go up over the long haul. And the most attractive times to invest are also the times when there's the most fear.

"As Warren Buffett says, 'Be greedy when people are fearful and be fearful when people are greedy,' " Campbell said. "People are fearful now. It's time to start investing."

"The cheaper you can buy, the better for your long-term return," Blanchett said.

Here's how to get into the habit of saving more and spending less
How to save more and spend less