retirement calculation

Financial Planning and Fortune Tellers

© Can Stock Photo / Anke

We recently reviewed a financial planner’s article about strategies for claiming Social Security. They had software to do a complex analysis. The software required inputs of some raw facts: estimated Social Security benefits at different ages, household cash flow requirements, financial balances.

But the software required inputs, answers to questions about the future:

How much will investments earn in the future?

What will tax rates be in the future?

What will inflation be in the future?

How will household cash flow needs change in the future?

Many software planning tools even ask for the answer to the ultimate question: what will the date on your death certificate be?

The problem is we can’t know the future. So calculating that financial balances would be a tiny amount higher 30 years from now if one course is chosen versus another is probably about as reliable as consulting a fortune teller. Especially when it comes to trying to guess when your retirement will “end”!

But when it comes out of a computer, with charts and graphs and year-by-year tables of numbers, presented by a well-dressed person with initials after their name, it seems real.

At the dawn of the computer age, a phrase was used to describe the analytical version of “you reap what you sow”: “garbage in, garbage out” (or GIGO).1 We might do well to remember it.

Clients, if you would like to puzzle through any financial issue, we would be happy to use real life dialogue to sort out how the alternatives might work out. Email us or call.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.


Inflated Expectations

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / smuay

Back in 1970, gas was 25 cents a gallon and you could buy a liter of Coca-Cola for 15 cents. We all know that money is not what it used to be. When planning for the future, we need to remember that our money is not always going to be what it is now, either.

Conventional monetary policy aims for “normal” levels of inflation in the low 2-3% range per year. That may not sound like much, but it adds up. At this level of inflation, prices double approximately every 30 years. If you bury a dollar in the ground and dig it back up in 30 years, you can expect it to only buy half of what it could buy today.

For some people, this is fantastic news. If you take out a mortgage to buy a house, it gradually becomes easier for you to pay it off over the lifetime of the loan. At the end of a 30 year mortgage you’ll still be paying off the same amount, but the prices of everything else (including your wages) will have doubled. A small amount of inflation gives people incentives to invest and take risks with their money, helping make the economy more productive.

If you’re planning to retire on fixed assets, however, inflation poses a serious threat to you. With advances in healthcare it’s not unreasonable to expect new retirees to live another 30 years. After thirty years of inflation your retirement assets will only buy half as much in groceries and rent. Retirement funds that seem generous when you’re 65 may leave you in dire straits when you’re 95.

The simplest way to fix this is just to have more money than you’ll ever need—it doesn’t matter if your money loses spending power if you have even more money to spend. Of course, this is easier said than done! Saving diligently and spending wisely will only take you so far. If your retirement bucket isn’t big enough to weather inflation, you need to be able to grow your bucket. A balanced growth and income portfolio can potentially give you retirement income while still having some growth possibilities.

There are no guarantees; the future is full of uncertainty. Growth-oriented holdings can be volatile, and it takes steady nerves to watch the value of your retirement holdings going up and down. If you can tolerate it, though, including growth holdings as part of your retirement portfolio can give you a chance to stay ahead of inflation.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

Can You Afford Retirement? Part 2

© / Kenishirotie

In the prior installment, we wrote about determining how much income you’ll need in retirement.

The challenge we face in trying to understand retirement planning is that so many of our resources are in lump sum form. IRA balances, profit-sharing plans, and 401(k)s show one big number, the account value. But in the real world, we need recurring income with which to pay our bills.

So how do you take a lump sum and figure out the recurring income it will produce? Or, if you know the income you will need to fund our retirement lifestyle, how do you figure out the lump sum you need?

(If you would like us to do the arithmetic, or if you are actually getting ready to figure out your own retirement scenario, feel free to call for an appointment in the office or a telephone conference. If you are more the ‘do-it-yourself’ type, read on.)

Our baseline assumption is that a diversified, well-invested portfolio can stand withdrawal rates of 5% annually on a perpetual basis. So if your hypothetical retirement income target says you need $24,000 per year ($2,000 per month) from your portfolio after Social Security benefits and pensions, you can figure the size of the portfolio needed simply by multiplying $24,000 by 20 (or equivalently by dividing $24,000 by 5%.) Either way, this formula says you will need $480,000 in order to produce $24,000 of portfolio income per year.

Some commentators say that 4% is the right number, not 5%. A lower withdrawal rate will produce greater financial security, all other things equal. Our experience says 5% is workable, but this is not guaranteed. It is a rule of thumb. We would expect that the lump sum would go up and down in value with a generally rising long term trend, and that income withdrawals may increase from time to time.

Some people prefer to plan for a certain number of years, or use annuities, to boost planned spending for a given amount of retirement resources. Our preferred methodology, when possible, is to rely on generating sustainable levels of income on a continuous basis.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Annuities are long-term, tax-deferred investment vehicles designed for retirement purposes. Gains from tax-deferred investments are taxable as ordinary income upon withdrawal. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 ½ are subject to 10% IRS penalty tax. Surrender charges apply.

All examples are hypothetical and are not representative of any specific investment. Your results may vary.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.