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Forget That 4% Withdrawal Rule and Instead, Focus on Flexibility

There is a longstanding 4% rule of thumb that was developed in the mid-1990s, outlining how much a person could safely withdraw from retirement savings each year and still have a nest egg to last a lifetime (aka 30 years).

Scratch that rule, advisors are now saying, because there are too many other factors to consider. The old 4% rule, reports Forbes in the article “Here’s How to Refresh Your Retirement: The 4% Rule of Thumb,” doesn’t work anymore, in light of increasingly high healthcare costs, jobs that can be done well into one’s later years and a longer life expectancy.

It is now thought that the 4% rule is a decent base line.  However, you’ll need to go deeper into the details to plan for your retirement. Your spending also has a lot to do with what you expect from retirement and how expensive a lifestyle you choose.

One key factor today is tax-deferred investing. The importance of being taxed at the highest rate versus paying a lower tax rate can be misleading. Many people defer taxes on their investments, because they don’t want to pay 30% to 40% income taxes when they could defer to a higher bracket, if tax laws change. 

Some are considering investment in single family rental properties. If you buy a rental house with a small capital investment, the house will ideally appreciate over time on a tax-deferred basis. Owners benefit by depreciating expenses on their tax returns. The single-family rental home can be paid off in 15 years to 20 years and create income for the owner—predictable income that could also increase from year to year.

Another strategy is to create an investment portfolio that combines diversified stocks and high-quality fixed annuities, paired with a systematic withdrawal plan and a built-in buffer strategy to reduce risk in the case of severe stock market swings.

One advisor noted that if a retiree today relies on a traditional 60/40 stock/bond portfolio, they could be looking at a financial disaster. The yields on bonds are at historic lows and a 4% withdrawal is just asking for trouble.

An effective tax reduction strategy has the potential to raise a retiree’s safe withdrawal rate even higher.

The best advice is to have a plan in place that works for the lifestyle that you and your spouse want and being prepared to adjust, if necessary. Your plan may include working, until you both reach full retirement age, working part time during retirement, moving to a location that is more affordable or aging in place.

Your plan should include putting your estate plan in place, by working with an experienced estate planning attorney. At the very least, you’ll need a will, power of attorney and a medical directive. Depending upon your situation, you may need more complex planning tools.

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 7, 2018) “Here’s How to Refresh Your Retirement: The 4% Rule of Thumb”

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