What does markets' plunge mean for my money and retirement? Here's everything we know

What does markets' plunge mean for my money and retirement? Here's everything we know

This has not been a pleasant month to review your 401(k) statements.

On Monday, the Dow tumbled more than 1,800 points in afternoon trading.

The sell-off is part of a brutal stretch for stock markets around the world, weighed down by increased fears that the spreading coronavirus could slow the global economy.

Fears of a recession were also fueled Monday by a drop in oil prices after major producers were unable to strike a deal to prop up the price of crude.

Since February 12, when the Dow reached a high of 29,551.42, the index has shed more than 5,000 points as of Monday trading.

But what does all this market volatility mean for your money, whether it's your retirement accounts or that loan you're paying off? Here's what you should know:

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What should I do with my 401(k)?

It's understandable that you'd get anxious after checking your retirement balances. The important thing is to avoid panicking.

That doesn't mean there aren't choices you could consider if you want to shield your 401(k) from the market plunge. For example, you could review your long-term mix of stocks, bonds and other assets.

In fact, it could be a good time to contribute more to your 401(k).

What if I have a mortgage or other debt?

Last week, the Federal Reserve held a rare emergency meeting, lowering its key interest rate by half a percentage point.

That means people looking to borrow money for a new home or refinance their current mortgages could see even lower rates.

"Knocking $150 off your monthly mortgage payment creates valuable breathing room in the household budget," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at

As for debt from credit cards and home equity lines of credit, borrowers could see a dip in their interest costs.

Bad news if you're behind on car payments

Any slowdown in the economy means it could likely get tougher for the roughly 7 million Americans who were 90 or more days delinquent on their car loans. That would mean not only losing your car, but suffering a huge hit to your credit score.