Retirement Alert: The 4% Rule Is ‘No Longer Feasible’ — How Seniors Should Adjust To Match Inflation

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The 4% rule has long been synonymous with retirement spending. The so-called rule of thumb states that retirees can safely withdraw 4% of their retirement savings during their first year of retirement and then adjust that amount for inflation each year for the next 30 years. However, the Wall Street Journal has reported that the math is now changing as market forecasters predict lower returns, potentially changing how millions spend and save for their retirement years.

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According to a report released Nov. 11 by investment research firm Morningstar, the commonly cited 4% rule “may no longer be feasible.” In fact, those retiring now should spend no more than 3.3% of their savings during the first year, and then adjust for inflation after that, regardless of the market’s performance. For example, the 4% rule states that from a $1 million portfolio, you would be able to withdraw $40,000 during the first year of retirement safely. Using the 3.3% rule, that amount would be $33,000.

Researchers at Morningstar simulated future returns over 30 years and found that in about a quarter of the simulations, a 50% stock and 50% bond portfolio would run out of money if withdrawals remained at 4%.

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While the difference seems minimal, a CNBC analysis found that the difference would be more noticeable later in retirement: $75,399 versus $62,205, respectively, at the 30th year using a 2.21% annual rate of inflation.

“It’s counterintuitive, but when the stock market and stock valuations are high, it’s the worst time to retire,” said Morningstar personal finance director Christine Benz, a co-author of the firm’s report, the WSJ reported.

The WSJ also noted that other researchers agree that returns are likely to fall, which would complicate withdrawals. However, retirees do have options if they are planning to spend more than 3.3%. One such option is working longer, which would reduce the number of years they’d need to rely on personal savings. Another is delaying the year they start taking Social Security.

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Advisers also recommend varying portfolio withdrawals in response to market moves, the WSJ added, or to waive inflation adjustments in any year after which your portfolio sustains losses. Today’s retirees will need to be resourceful to support income needs, Morningstar said.

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About the Author

Josephine Nesbit is a freelance writer specializing in real estate and personal finance. She grew up in New England but is now based out of Ohio where she attended The Ohio State University and lives with her two toddlers and fiancé. Her work has appeared in print and online publications such as Fox Business and Scotsman Guide.

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