My father retired in 1991 after 39 years as a high school teacher. His pension, along with my mother’s pension and their social security checks, added up to more than they spent every month. Dad never had to ask himself whether he’d saved enough to retire. He simply needed to work enough years to get his pension. In 1991, most people with pension plans had traditional defined benefit pensions, pensions that paid a monthly income until you died. These days, most workers with pension plans have defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans. Workers own the money in their retirement accounts. But they have to figure out for themselves whether it’s enough to retire. How much retirement savings you need to retire is going to depend upon how old you are when you retire, how much social security you collect, what additional income you have in retirement, and how much you spend each year. Let’s look at an example of how to calculate retirement saving needs.
Jocelyn is 55 and single. Her annual total salary is $44,000 a year. She plans to retire on her 70th birthday. To estimate how much money she needs to save to retire at 70, Jocelyn first writes down her current annual spending by category. Your own categories may be more or less detailed than hers. Jocelyn goes through her financial records, including her checkbook and her credit card statements for the last year, to figure out how much she spent on what. On the W2 form that her employer sent her at the beginning of the year, she sees that she paid $3,366 in FICA and Medicare taxes. Her state and federal income taxes were $4,000. She contributed $6,000 to her 401(k) retirement savings. She funded her rainy day account years ago and didn’t add to it last year. Jocelyn’s employer currently pays for her medical and disability insurance. Her out-of-pocket medical expenses last year, including medications, were $1,000. Rent, $15,600. Phone and utilities, $2,400. Groceries, $3,600. She spent $1,200 eating out and $1,000 on entertainment and travel. Auto maintenance cost her $1,000, auto insurance, $800, and gas, $1,000. She spent $1,200 on clothing and personal items. Jocelyn spent $600 on gifts and gave $600 to charity.
Her renters insurance and other expenses were $634. Jocelyn now goes through her list and asks herself which expenses are likely to change after she retires. She won’t pay FICA and Medicare taxes after retiring. That’s one big savings. Her state and federal income taxes will be lower. As we’ll see, most of Jocelyn’s retirement income will be her social security benefits. And at Jocelyn’s income level, less than half of her social security will be subject to federal income taxes. After she retires, Jocelyn will no longer contribute to her 401(k) retirement savings account. However, she does plan to set aside $3,000 a year for unexpected expenses.
She will pay $1,500 a year for her Medicare Part B and D coverage. And her out-of-pocket medical expenses will likely increase as she ages. Jocelyn expects most of her other expenses to stay about the same after she retires. Two exceptions are that she’s going to spend less money on gas, since she’ll no longer be driving to work, and she plans to spend more on travel. All together, Jocelyn expects to spend about $37,134 a year after she retires. Jocelyn looks up her projected social security benefits on the Social Security website. If she starts claiming benefits at age 62, she’ll receive $11,700 in today’s dollars each year. If she claims at 67, she’ll get $17,556 a year. And if she waits until 70 to receive Social Security, she’ll receive $22,320 a year.
She’ll get nearly twice the annual income if she claims social security at 70 rather than 62. Jocelyn is healthy. And her mother lived into her 90s. Her biggest financial fear is that she might outlive her savings. Waiting until 70 to claim social security is one of the most cost effective ways to provide additional income in old age. And that’s what Jocelyn decides to do. Jocelyn will spend $37,134 a year in retirement and receive $22,320 in social security benefits. That leaves her with $14,814 to fund out of her retirement savings.
That’s in today’s dollars. When Jocelyn retires in 15 years, everything will cost more because of inflation. Fortunately, social security benefits are indexed to inflation. So her social security income will rise about as fast as her expenses do. However, in 15 years, she will need more than $14,814 to make up the difference between her social security and what she plans to spend. How much more? Over the last 25 years, inflation in the United States has been about 2.5% a year. If that trend continued, Jocelyn’s $14,814 in annual expenses will be about $21,500 in 15 years.
You can calculate that by multiplying 14,814 by 1.025 to the 15th power, which equals 21,455. Alternatively, you can use one of many future inflation calculators available online. Jocelyn decides to be a bit more conservative in her projections. And she assumes that her expenses will go up by 3% a year, not 2.5%. Let’s use an online calculator to see how much $14,814 will grow to in 15 years with 3% inflation. Enter the expected inflation rate of 3% a year for 15 years and a starting amount or a present value of $14,814. With inflation of 3%, Jocelyn will need about $23,000 a year in income beyond her social security when she retires in 15 years. So how much savings will Jocelyn need to provide $23,000 in income when she’s 70? In a video on spending in retirement, I suggest that people apply the RMD spending rule.
That is, each year spend no more from your retirement savings than the required minimum distribution mandated by the IRS. The rule can also be used to estimate how much savings you need to provide a level of income. To do so, look up the RMD withdrawal factor for the age at which you plan to retire. You can find this on RMD calculators such as the one on investor.gov. Or you can look it up on the IRS website. Multiply the annual income you’ll need by the withdrawal factor. And that gives you the amount of savings you’ll need to generate that annual income under the RMD rule. In Jocelyn’s case, let’s keep things simple and assume that her birthday is in January. Her RMD withdrawal factor the year in which she retires, also the year in which she turns 70 and 1/2, will be 27.4.
times $23,000 is $630,200. So Jocelyn’s going to need about $630,000 in savings plus her social security to support her anticipated expenses when she retires. Put differently, the year she retires, Jocelyn’s required minimum distribution will be 3.65% of her retirement savings. And $23,000 is 3.65% of $630,200. So that’s it. Estimate how much you’re going to spend in retirement. Subtract your estimated social security benefits from that, as well as any other income you’re going to have in retirement. And that gives you the expenses that you need to fund through your savings. Adjust these expenses for inflation between now and when you retire. And multiply by your RMD withdrawal factor the year that you retire. This will give you an estimate of how much money you’re going to need when you retire.
Of course, your situation may be more complicated than Jocelyn’s. For example, if you own your home and have a fixed rate mortgage, your mortgage expenses won’t increase with inflation and will end when you pay off your mortgage. So calculate future mortgage expenses separately from your other expenses. Furthermore, if you own your home this gives you additional savings. What if you plan to retire before 70? Required minimum distributions start the year you turn 70 and 1/2. If you are thinking of retiring a few years earlier, I suggest using a withdrawal rate of 33.
That is, multiply the annual expenses you’re going to need to cover from your retirement savings by 33 to get the amount of savings you’ll need. If you are planning to retire many years before you turn 70, you’re probably not watching this video. What if there is no way for you to save enough to fund the retirement you’d like? That’s a tough problem, but not an uncommon one. To have more income in retirement, wait until 70 to claim social security benefits. Also, consider working a few more years before you retire, looking for part time work after you retire, taking in a roommate, or reducing your spending. Planning for retirement is much harder today than when my father was teaching at Mahtomedi High School. The change from traditional defined benefit pensions to 401(k) retirement plans has shifted the responsibility and risk of funding retirements from employers to individuals. You have to decide how much to save, how to invest your savings, and how much you need to retire. This video may help you figure out the minimum you’ll need to retire. But you will continue to bear the risk that your investments do poorly or that you live longer than expected.
So if you possibly can, try to retire with more than the minimum. .
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Alice is a school teacher at St. Paul’s Lutheran School. She recently had a conversation with her students about goals. While it’s a way’s off, she’s started thinking more about her own goals, especially with retirement. Away from school, Alice loves to bake. There’s nothing better to her than putting the right ingredients together and creating a tasty treat for her kids and their friends. Alice has started to look at retirement the same way she does baking. If you mix the right ingredients together and have a little patience, you’ll end up with something rewarding when the time comes.
Alice is smart. She’s knows the three key ingredients for retirement income. Let’s turn it over to our retirement chef to explain. Thanks Narrator Guy. So my first ingredient is the Concordia Retirement Plan pension fund. Check out that video out to see what an amazing benefit the pension is! The second ingredient is Social Security. I’ve been paying into this government fund since I started working. When I retire, I should receive money back to help me lead the life I want to live. But it’s the third ingredient that really helps me know I’ll have enough retirement income to meet my expenses.
It’s the Concordia Retirement Savings Plan 403(b). A 403(b) is the non-profit version of a 401(k), and the CRSP has some of the lowest fees available. That means I get to keep more for my retirement! As soon as the CRSP 403(b) began, I started investing because I knew this ingredient was in my control. I have my employer put some of each paycheck into the plan. I know that, if I need to, I can pause or change my contribution because the CRSP is so flexible. But even when things were tight or the markets were down, I still regularly saved something for retirement. It was like “set it and forget it and you won’t regret it!” I’m a baker, not a banker, so luckily Concordia Plans has top-notch experts who mixed my investments among the funds they offer. I didn’t need to be an investment expert, but when I wanted to learn more, CPS always had resources available to help. When I retire, I’ll still have expenses to pay for. Some of them, like medical costs, will probably rise. Thanks to my commitment to the Concordia Retirement Savings Plan, I’ll have enough money to pay for what I need.
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If you have spent any time researching retirement planning online, you have heard of the 4% rule. If you haven’t heard of it, the 4% rule suggests that if you spend 4% of your assets in your initial year of retirement, and then adjust for inflation each year going forward, you will be unlikely to run out of money. To put some numbers to it, if you wanted to retire and spend $40,000 per year, adjusted for inflation, from your portfolio, you would need to retire with one million dollars to adhere to the four percent rule. This rule is alternatively described as the requirement to have 25 years worth of spending in your portfolio to afford retirement. 1/25 equals 4% – it’s the same rule. While it is simple and elegant, the 4% rule is probably not the best way to plan for retirement, especially if you plan on retiring early. I’m Ben Felix, Associate Portfolio Manager at PWL Capital. In this episode of Common Sense Investing, I’m going to tell you why the 4% rule is not a rule to live by.
The 4% rule originated in William Bengen’s October 1994 study, published in the Journal of Financial Planning. Bengen was a financial planner. He wanted to find a realistic safe withdrawal rate to recommend to his retired clients. Bengan’s breakthrough in determining a safe withdrawal rate came from modelling spending over 30-year periods in US market history rather than the common practice of simply using average historical returns. Using data for a hypothetical portfolio consisting of 50% S&P 500 index and 50% intermediate-term US government bonds he looked at rolling 30-year periods starting in 1926, ending with 1992. So, 1926 – 1955, followed by 1927 – 1956 etc., ending with 1963 – 1992. The maximum safe withdrawal rate in the worst 30-year period ended up being just over 4%. From this simple but innovative analysis, the 4% rule was born. More recently Bengen has adjusted his spending rule to 4.5% based on the inclusion of small cap stocks in the hypothetical historical portfolio.
While the 4% (and the 4.5% rule) may have basis in historical US data, there are substantial problems with these rules in general, and specifically in the case of a retirement period longer than 30 years. In his 2017 book How Much Can I Spend in Retirement, Wade Pfau, Ph.D, CFA, looked at 30-year safe withdrawal rates in both US and non-US markets using the Dimson-Marsh-Staunton Global Returns Dataset, and assuming a portfolio of 50% stocks and 50% bills. He found that the US at 3.9%, Canada at 4.0%, New Zealand at 3.8%, and Denmark at 3.7% were the only countries in the dataset that would have historically supported something close to the 4% rule. The aggregate global portfolio of stocks and bills had a much lower 30-year safe withdrawal rate of 3.5%. Considering returns other that US historical returns is important, but, in my opinion, one of the most important assumptions to be aware of in the 4% rule is the 30-year retirement period used by Bengen. People are living longer, and many of the bloggers citing the 4% rule are focused on FIRE, financial independence retire early.
In Bengen’s study the 4% rule with a 50% stock 50% bond portfolio was shown to have a 0% chance of failure over 30-year historical periods in the US. That chance of failure increases to around 15% over 40-year periods, and closer to 30% over 50-year periods. FIRE likely means a retirement period longer than 30 years. Modelling longer time periods using historical sampling becomes problematic because we have data for a limited number of historical 50-year periods.
One way to address this issue is with Monte Carlo simulation. Monte Carlo is a technique where an unlimited number of sample data sets can be simulated to model uncertainty without relying on historical periods. Even with Monte Carlo simulation, there is an obvious risk to using historical data to build expectations about the future. The world today is different than it was in the past. Interest rates are low, and stock prices are high. While it may be reasonable to expect relative outcomes to persist, such as stocks outperforming bonds, small stocks outperforming large stocks, and value stocks outperforming growth stocks, the magnitude of future returns are unknown and unknowable. To address this for financial planning, PWL Capital uses a combination of equilibrium cost of capital and current market conditions to build an estimate for expected future returns for use in financial planning. This process is outlined in the 2016 paper Great Expectations.
Using the December 2017 PWL Capital expected returns for a 50% stock 50% bond portfolio we are able to model the safe withdrawal rate for varying durations of retirement using Monte Carlo simulation. We will assume that a 95% success rate over 1,000 trials is sufficient to be called a safe withdrawal rate. For a 30-year retirement period, our Monte Carlo simulation gives us a 3.5% safe withdrawal rate. Pretty close to the original 4% rule, and spot on with Wade Pfau’s global revision of Bengen’s analysis. Now let’s say a 40-year old wants to retire today and assume life until age 95. That’s a 55-year retirement period. The safe withdrawal rate? 2.2%. I think that this is such an important message. The 4% rule falls apart over longer retirement periods. So far we have talked about spending a consistent inflation adjusted amount each year in retirement. One way to increase the amount that you can spend overall is allowing for variable spending. In general this means spending more when markets are good, and spending less when markets are bad. The result is more spending overall with a lower probability of running out of money. The catch is that you have to live with a variable income or have the ability to generate additional income from, say, working, to fill in the gaps when markets are not doing well.
We also need to talk about fees. Fees reduce returns. Fees may be negligible if you are using low-cost ETFs, but they become extremely important if you are using high-fee mutual funds, or if you are paying for financial advice. The safe withdrawal rate in the worst 30-year period in the US drops to 3.56% with a 1% fee, making the 4% rule the more like the 3.5% rule after a 1% fee.
Adding a 1% fee to the Monte Carlo simulation reduces the safe withdrawal rates by around 0.50% on average. In both cases this is a meaningful reduction in spending. Of course, fees need to be considered alongside the value being received in exchange for the fee. This value should be heavily tied to behavioural coaching and financial decision making. There have been two well-known attempts to quantify the value of financial advice, one by Vanguard and one by Morningstar. Vanguard estimated that between building a customized investment plan, minimizing risks and tax impacts, and behavioural coaching, good financial advice can add an average of 3% per year to returns. Morningstar looked at withdrawal strategies, asset allocation, tax efficiency, liability relative optimization, annuity allocation, and timing of social security (CPP in Canada), to arrive at a value-add of 2.34% per year.
PWL Capital’s Raymond Kerzerho has also written on this topic, finding an estimated value-add of just over 3% per year. Based on these analyses, one could argue that paying 1% for good financial advice could even increase your safe withdrawal rate. I would not go that far, but the point is that while fees are a consideration, they may be worthwhile in exchange for good advice.
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