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Success Factors for Retirement, Part 2

Of course, holding a higher equity weighting also means higher short-term volatility, but that may be an acceptable trade-off when considering the bigger risk of running out of money prematurely.

Success Factor 4: A Sensible (and Dynamic) Spending Strategy. The size and composition of a retirement portfolio are just one side of the ledger. On the other side? The strategy used for extracting the cash needed from that portfolio on an ongoing basis. Even very large portfolios aren’t big enough to last for an entire retirement if the withdrawal, or spending, rate is too high. That’s why financial-planning researchers have been focusing so much energy on this area in recent years. Many experts think that the old 4% rule, which involves taking 4% of a portfolio’s balance in year one of retirement and inflation-adjusting that amount thereafter, still gives a person with a 60% equity/40% bond portfolio good odds of not outliving their money over a 30-year retirement. But there’s also widespread agreement that retirees can greatly improve their portfolios’ longevity if they’re willing to be flexible about withdrawals, reducing spending in lean years for the market and potentially taking a bit more in good ones. In addition to being willing to adjust their withdrawal rates, retirees may also want to be flexible about withdrawal strategies, using an income-centric approach in more yield-rich eras and relying more on rebalancing proceeds in others.

Success Factor 5: Flexibility on In-Retirement Living Expenses. Even people who aren’t in the habit of driving 16-year-old cars (and don’t plan to) can make their retirement finances better if they’re willing to contemplate a less costly in-retirement lifestyle. One of the easiest ways to bring costs down without throwing quality-of-life considerations out the window is to consider downsizing homes. Like working longer, downsizing can have a positive impact on a few different levels. Even if you own your home free and clear, you’re apt to have lower outlays for taxes, utilities, and maintenance costs than you did in your larger home. And the sale of a home that realizes a profit means more money for retirement.

Success Factor 6: Vigilance on Portfolio Costs. As a portfolio’s asset allocation gets more conservative over time, its return potential declines as well. This means that investment-related costs, on a percentage basis, will extract an even bigger toll than they did when the portfolios was younger and earning a high return. Let’s say a 50% stock/50% bond portfolio earns a 4.5% annualized return, on a pre-expense basis, over the next few decades. Assuming a 3% inflation rate, that’s just a 1.5% real return. And unless investors are careful, nearly all of that return could disappear in investment-related and tax costs. After all, it’s not unusual for funds to have expenses over 1%, and they’re just one piece of the expense pie. The good news is that investment costs are one of the easier factors for investors to control. Another area to focus on is tax management. Retirees may want to hang on to tax-advantaged accounts for as long as possible. When it comes time to pull money out, investors should carefully consider which accounts to withdraw from, with an eye toward staying in the lowest possible tax bracket.

Returns and principal invested in stocks are not guaranteed, and stocks have been more volatile than other asset classes. Investing does not ensure a profitable outcome and always involves risk of loss.

Asset allocation is a method used to help manage risk. It does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss. This is for informational purposes only and should not be considered tax or financial planning advice. Please consult a tax and/or financial professional for advice specific to your individual circumstances.

This article contributed by Christine Benz, Director of Personal Finance with Morningstar.

©2015 Morningstar, Inc.

 
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