Your retirement: Is the 4% rule viable?
One study says a safe withdrawal rate for a retirement begun in 2010 was only 1.8%. Another says 7% is OK for some. How can you make sense of this?
This post comes from Glenn Ruffenach at partner site SmartMoney.
Can you guess what's coming?
Last year, a research paper in the Journal of Financial Planning predicted that a safe nest-egg withdrawal rate for retirements begun in 2010 is 1.8%. In other words, a new retiree with $500,000 should pull no more than $9,000 from savings annually to help ensure that his money lasts as long as he does. Stunned? Wait. There's more.
Within weeks of that report's appearance, a study in Retirement Management Journal made the case that a safe withdrawal rate for some individuals could be as much as 7%. Which means the same person with $500,000 could start retirement by pulling about $35,000 from savings annually.
See? Isn't retirement planning fun? In fact, both papers make some intriguing points. (We'll get to them in a moment.) But here's the real lesson: Retirement planning -- or rather, good retirement planning -- is never really finished. Ideally, your particular plan is open to new ideas and research and, as such, is able to evolve.
Take the so-called 4% rule. Based on pioneering work in the early 1990s by William Bengen, a certified financial planner in El Cajon, Calif., the rule states that retirees can pull about 4% annually from their nest egg, with a high probability that their savings will last 30 years. (Bengen himself eventually set the figure at 4.5%.) The findings helped establish budgets and spending patterns for countless individuals.
Recently, though, researchers have been investigating how additional variables -- investment fees, the timing of retirement, retiree spending patterns -- could affect Bengen's benchmark. Here's what some of that work might mean for your retirement. Post continues below.
On your mark
"Market valuations" -- the relative health of markets at the moment you enter retirement -- are now an important part of calculating withdrawal rates. The thinking: Markets move in cycles (bull markets follow bear markets, and so on), and we can measure (to some extent) whether we're on the cusp of the former or the latter.
Why is that important? If you happen to retire at the start of a bear market and withdraw too much too soon, your nest egg might expire before you do.
In his study in the Journal of Financial Planning, economist Wade Pfau notes that when price/earnings ratios (to cite one marker) are at or above historical averages, as they are today, investors in coming years are more likely to see anemic returns. As such, a new retiree would want to keep his initial withdrawal rate on the low side -- perhaps as low as (gulp) 1.8% -- to weather coming storms.
Care to gamble?
Most research into withdrawal rates assumes retirees, in effect, want a guarantee that their savings will last 30 years or more. But what if you're willing to gamble? Would you risk having (virtually) no savings for a brief period late in life in order to draw more early in retirement? Having a pension, for instance, might make that a risk worth taking.
That's the question Duncan Williams and Michael Finke, a doctoral student and professor, respectively, at Texas Tech University, tackle in Retirement Management Journal. One possible answer: Some risk-tolerant retirees could start with a withdrawal rate of 7%.
And what if you're risk-averse?
Even a 95% chance of success, when it comes to a nest egg's long-term survival, "may still represent a significant risk," says Ed Easterling, the founder and president of Crestmont Research, a Corvallis, Ore.-based investment-research firm. His example: A surgeon tells you she has a sterling 95% success rate with the operation she's about to perform -- and mentions that she operates 20 times a week. That means, of course, that one surgery per week, on average, will go bad. Easterling's point: A 95% success rate might sound good to others -- but is it good for you?
Running the numbers
Financial coach Todd R. Tresidder, founder of FinancialMentor.com, offers a four-step method for figuring withdrawal rates that reflects much of the recent research: Estimate your life span, assess market valuations at the time you retire, account for variables like inflation and investment fees and revisit your plan regularly. Tresidder is confident that investors can run the numbers themselves -- but I'm less so. Get your adviser to help with this.
Holding its value
And what of Bill Bengen, father of the 4% rule? One of the most affable people in the financial-planning industry, Bengen has never claimed that his findings are right for every retiree. Indeed, he thinks some of the latest research about market valuations is "terrific."
He told me recently that he started with a specific set of assumptions: a retirement lasting 30 years, with savings in a tax-deferred account and nothing left for heirs. Change just one of those parameters, he says, and your "safe" withdrawal rate may differ.
Still, Bengen notes, 4% remains a prudent jumping-off point for calculating withdrawal rates from nest eggs. Just keep your plan open to some adjustments.
More on SmartMoney and MSN Money:
My husband should have 300-350K in his 401k by the time he retires (about 6 years) if everything goes as planned (very conservatively invested) which will make him about 67. We will use the 401k money and his pension to put off drawing SS til 70 when he gets the higher amount. He is in good health and with his family history there is a good chance he will live to his mid 80s. Our house will be paid off and no other debt except maybe one car payment.
So we may start off at a higher withdraw rate of about 36k per year for three years and then drop down to a lower rate(18k) when SS kicks in
The 401k will last about 14-15 years by which time i will be retired. Right before i retire we will sell off the house and move into a smaller, easier to care for home and pocket the difference for future use.
Then, of course there is my income but we can just live off his if we have too
So as you see, for most of our retirement we will be taking over 7% out and it still works for us
Of course i haven't planned for all possible outcomes, so if the stuff hits the fan things could change. But we have a plan and i am not going to live in poverty on the off chance he has a stroke tomorrow.
This article is irresponsible at best. Create a panic in the open to catch attention and then offer up the answer that there is no problem at all by saying that 4% is still a “good jumping off point” to conclude the article. Wow, that was enlightening…
The fact is that actuaries still know that over time investment accounts will produce returns near long term trends, maybe higher given the starting point, and that is why insurance companies are now offering retirees five, six and higher percent guaranteed withdrawal rates for lifetime payouts. Hey folks, insurance companies are not in business to lose money.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret…there is no new paradigm for investing. Invest in good companies, collect dividends and buy more shares with those dividends. Lather rinse and repeat.
Once people’s expectations are focused on long term total return and not short term success, only then will they succeed at investing.
I'll start by saying I'm not a CFP or certified in anything financial, but i've used a few assumptions over the years and they have recently been updated.
Number one - please figure on inflation. I now use 3.5% annually, or figure the price of stuff will double every twenty years. So if you think you'll need 50K a year when you retire at 60, you'll want to be generating 100K annually when you hit 80.
Number two - be realistic about what you'll likely spend. Don't say things like "I'll probably just need about 70% of my income." Do the math and see what your bills will likely be (with things like increased medical costs, pricier insurance, no house payment, lower taxes after retirement, etc) and then look at what you would like to do - travel, golf, garden - and put a price on those things. Only by doing that will you really get a grip on what you'll most likely need.
Number three - decide if you want to have anything left over to pass on to the kids and/or spouse and then work backwards from there. Having an amount left over (I recommend a pretty good size chunk) gives you the ability to live longer and still have money left over. In other words, if you plan to run out of money at 90, and you do, but you live to 96, your last 6 years are going to suck. Think about the "inheritance" as being a kind of "insurance" for you. Hey, if you die early, the worst that'll happen is the people who outlive you will have more money than you were going to give them.
Finally - put it all on paper. I use a spreadsheet, and run the numbers with different inflation numbers, rates of return, starting amounts, spending amounts, and life expectancies. It takes some time, but it seems worth it for such an important thing. You can have a planner help you, just make sure they know what they're doing and that they listen to your concerns. The more you dig into it, the easier your decisions will be to make.
Good luck, and if you take some time, you'll be able to get there. Unless you're 65 and only have 30 grand.
My husband should have 300-350K in his 401k by the time he retires (about 6 years) if everything goes as planned (very conservatively invested) which will make him about 67. We will use the 401k money and his pension to put off drawing SS til 70 when he gets the higher amount. He is in good health and with his family history there is a good chance he will live to his mid 80s. Our house will be paid off and no other debt except maybe one car payment. So we may start off at a higher withdraw rate of about 36k per year for three years and then drop down to a lower rate(18k) when SS kicks in The 401k will last about 14-15 years by which time i will be retired. Right before i retire we will sell off the house and move into a smaller, easier to care for home and pocket the difference for future use. Then, of course there is my income but we can just live off his if we have too So as you see, for most of our retirement we will be taking over 7% out and it still works for us
I see another person who simply doesn't have enough tucked away. One major health crisis, and the 401(k) is instantly emptied. Not putting money aside for health crisises is the primary reason most peoples retirement funds fall short.
"What me worry?" The so called "Progressives" will have it all figured out. The Federal Government will provide for my every want and need until the day I die. I can just spend my money now, even run up outrageous debts, and I'll be fine. Think I'm joking? 50% of our country is banking on it.
Please, stop it. Progressives do understand that the vast majority of people will frankly never save up for retirement, and thus want programs that ensure there is at least a bare minimum saftey net in place. Then again, if people still had guranteed pension plans, or at least got enough raises to cover inflation, there wouldn't need to be so much money wasted on such programs in the first place.
So.......apparently no one knows what the correct rate is!
This is not a one size fits all folks. It depends upon your lifestyle and if you are trying to leave something for the children. What most if not all of these plans leave out is the fact that you need more money in the first portion of your retirement and less in the second portion. In the beginning you plan to live as closely to your current lifestyle as you can while in the later years (80-85+) you will not be as mobile, you will not eat as much, etc.. But the medical cost will be higher. So back to my original statement no one knows.
Good article. I believe many classic assumptions about investing are no longer valid in today’s wacky markets and economy. The huge increase in government intervention alone makes it impossible for things to remain the same. In my long range planning, I now assume that my investments will lose 2-3% of their real purchasing power over time, after inflation and taxes. I’m praying that assumption is conservative enough to carry me through. Good luck finding a financial adviser who will tell you to do the same. Even if they believe it themselves, they know such advice will never help them get or keep you as a client.
Depends on rate of inflation, and yield of money.
Inflation depends on how much Uncle Sam prints and gives away.
Uncle Sam has set the yield at ZERO.
That's a hard combination for the average person, fine for the banks.
I don't think any flat % can or should be assumed for retirement withdrawls. As this article points out, market conditions change what you are able to pull out at any given time.
The bottom line is: save as much as you can, invest your assets wisely, and consider other income streams besides 401ks and Social Security (rental properties, home equity, small businesses, part time jobs, etc.)
Anyone who tries to incorporate some magical withdrawl/investment return number to figure out the bare minimum to invest is going to hit the same brick wall that all the defined benefit pension plans have. You have no way of knowing for sure how long you will live, your lifetime income, or the market return.
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