Of the many challenges facing retirees, establishing an investment portfolio that yields enough income you won’t outlive is paramount.
Retirees are living longer today. The Society of Actuaries (SOA) is the go-to resource. According to the SOA, a 65-year-old male today, in average health, has a 55 percent probability of living to age 85. For a 65-year-old woman, the probability of reaching 85 is 65 percent.
Age 90 isn’t some wild outlier. The SOA’s data suggests that a 65-year-old male today, in average health, has a 35 percent chance of living to 90; for a woman the odds are 46 percent. If our two 65-year-olds live together, there is a 50 percent chance both will still be alive 16 years later, and that one will survive 27 years.
That’s just assuming average health. Suppose you have a wonderful gene pool and are committed to healthful habits. According to the SOA, a non-smoking, 65-year-old male in excellent health today has a 43 percent probability of living to age 90, and a similar 65-year-old female has a 54 percent probability of living to 90. One-third of today’s 65-year-old women in excellent health and about one in four men are expected to be alive at 95.
These vital statistics are indispensable when formulating an appropriate retirement spending strategy.
The 4 Percent Rule
A well-known retirement spending strategy is the “4 percent rule.” It was introduced in the 1990s by now retired financial planner William P. Bengen. The author of “Conserving Client Portfolios During Retirement” calculated a sustainable withdrawal rate that can be maintained for 30 years in retirement (adjusted for inflation).
For example, a retiree with a $1 million portfolio would calculate the first year withdrawal as $1 million x 4 percent = $40,000; assuming an inflation rate of 2.5 percent, the second year withdrawal would be $40,000 x 1.025 = $41,000 (and so forth).
This simple rule of thumb, however, is not without its shortcomings. First, Bengen’s research looked at historical market returns dating back to the 1920s.
Today, experts note, returns aren’t likely to be as robust as in the past. As a result, a lower, more conservative, spending rate (such as 3 percent) may be more appropriate. Second, the rule was calculated on spending 30-years in retirement. As increasing numbers of retirees are living longer, that 30-year yardstick may no longer be prudent. Third, the “4 percent rule” does not take into account the sequencing of market returns. So, those who experience negative portfolio returns, early in retirement, may have to adjust their spending to avoid prematurely depleting their portfolio’s assets.
For some retirees, employing a dynamic spending strategy can be helpful. Utilizing this strategy, retirees set a target annual spending amount, establishing a ceiling percentage to increase spending after a year of notable portfolio returns and a floor percentage to decrease spending after a year of poor/negative portfolio returns.
Employing this approach, retirees can adjust portfolio withdrawals (higher or lower) based on performance, which may help preserve the portfolio’s assets compared to a fixed withdrawal rate. Among the drawbacks of this strategy include the retiree being able to calculate a reasonable spending range and variable spending over-time based on market/portfolio performance. Behavioral finance suggests a retiree would increase spending following positive returns but reluctant to reduce spending after negative returns.
The Bucket Approach
In recent years, the “bucket approach” has grown in popularity among financial planners. With this approach, a retiree designates a pool of assets (the bucket) to help achieve their retirement income goals within a defined period of time.
For example, the first bucket could be for short-term needs (less than 3 years), with the pool of assets allocated very conservatively among cash and bonds. A second bucket, for intermediate needs (3 to 10 years), has a longer time horizon. That bucket would be invested among bonds, stocks and real assets. The third bucket would be for long-term needs (10-plus years) and have a smaller allocation to bonds with a larger allocation to high-growth assets including stocks, real assets and alternative investments. Over time, as assets in the first bucket are depleted, they are replenished with a transfer from the second bucket that is replenished with a transfer from the third bucket.
From a behavioral finance perspective, retirees may be better equipped to handle market volatility with their assets segregated. In the event of a prolonged market pullback, a retiree’s near-term cash needs are covered with the first (short-term) bucket. The drawback of this strategy is it can complicate a thoughtfully constructed portfolio. Also, many retirees have multiple investment accounts (both taxable and tax-deferred) that monitoring and evaluating each bucket could be viewed as unwieldy.
Monte Carlo Simulations
Named for Monte Carlo and modeled after the chance and random outcomes associated with the gaming destination, Monte Carlo simulations were developed in the 1940s by mathematician Stanislaw Ulam.
A Monte Carlo simulation incorporates a number of variables (savings, spending, asset allocation, market returns, taxes, etc.) to project the probability a retiree will have sufficient assets throughout retirement. Ideally, the Monte Carlo simulation shows a high projected probability of success (such as 80 percent or more), which will provide some cushion should future results vary from initial inputs. If the Monte Carlo simulation projects close to 100 percent, the retiree could reassess the analysis and use a higher spending rate; conversely, if the projected probability is too low, the retiree would need to adopt a lower spending rate.
The simulations have advantages, most notably the analysis can incorporate a wide range of variables to determine if there are enough assets for a given spending level. The Monte Carlo simulations have great flexibility to assess how changes to selected variables (savings, spending, returns, etc.) affect the distribution of retirement outcomes. As for its potential limitations, if the simulation model’s annual spend rate is too low or future asset returns too high, the analysis usefulness could be limited.
Retirement is a process, not an event or a destination. Thoughtful preparation must be exhibited to determine the appropriate annual spend. Equally as important, is an ongoing discussion of the retiree’s long-term needs and goals. Each should be revisited periodically and reassessed to provide a successful retirement. Ready to discuss reaching your retirement goals? Give us a call at 800-650-9474 or fill out our online contact us form.