Q. Can you assist us in this matter?   We are looking for a web site that will allow us to calculate how long our money will last if the investments are making 9% and we are drawing out 11% yearly.

---J.W., by e-mail


A. A handheld financial calculator will tell you that if you withdraw 11 percent a year from a sum that is earning 9 percent, you'll have monthly payments for 19 years. Here is the address of a good calculator on the web: http://www.interest.com/hugh/calc/missing.cgi  

Your 9 percent earnings and 11 percent withdrawal rate, however, make me worry. There are few, if any, investments that pay a consistent (and safe) 9 percent annually.

Suppose, for instance, that you invested 75 percent of your money in a low cost equity fund and the remainder in 5-year Treasurys. What are the odds it would last 20 years at an 11 percent withdrawal rate?

Answer: Only 30.8 percent. I got that result from the online portfolio survival probability calculator at: http://capn-bill.com/fire/ . This tells me that your withdrawal rate is likely to leave you hungry.


Q. Last week I visited the Social Security office to determine if I could take early retirement as of June 2002.   The answer appears to be no. In fact, it looks as if I will never be able to retire.

My company, where I have been employed for 24 years, will allow me to work part-time and keep all my benefits.   I have a 401K with precious little in it mostly due to needing cash for condo assessments and sometimes, for medical bills.

I am 61, divorced, supporting myself and having some health issues. A shorter workweek might enable me to improve my health.   I am allowed to make up to $940 monthly gross income.   (In order to make that amount, I would have to request a reduction in pay at work).

The IRS tells me I would be taxed at 10% for the first $6,000 I earn and $15% for anything over that.   I would be allowed $7700 in deductions for 2002. Social Security will pay $708 a month.

  I realize I would be stuck at that level even after I turn 65.   I have a small pension that will add $200 monthly and a refund of premiums from a disability company at age 65 which will probably be no more than $5,000.   I probably have already done the numbers correctly but I doubt myself.   What I need to know is how much net income including the Soc. Sec. would I have to work with?

With what I have told you, do you have any advice for me?   I have the column in which you mention "Grey Dawn" and will probably either buy or borrow a copy from the library.

---A.M., by e-mail


A. Borrow a copy of Gray Dawn by Peter G. Peterson from the library. It's a good book for the Big Picture. What it won't do is solve your particular problem. Yes, you got the basic rights.

Social Security benefits, if taken prior to your full retirement age of 65+, will be subject to reduction by your earnings. According to the Social Security Administration website, you can have earnings of $11,280 in 2002 without having your Social Security benefits reduced. Earnings above that amount will result in a direct reduction of benefits. Benefits are reduced $1 for every $2 your earnings exceed the maximum allowed.

Suppose, for instance, you earned $12,000 at your job, or $1,000 a month. Your Social Security early retirement benefits would be reduced by 1/2 of the $720 that your earned income exceeded the maximum. So your benefits would be cut by $360 a year.     

Another consideration: by taking benefits early, you reduce your future benefits. Benefits at 62 are 75 to 80 percent of benefits at age 65+. You need to have good reason to start taking benefits early if you intend to continue working.

This is NOT to be confused with the income tax. The federal income tax is an entirely separate matter. It isn't an issue unless your income exceeds certain levels. Yours doesn't and won't.

Social Security may reduce your benefits, but they won't be subject to income taxes. People with higher incomes who are over 65 may find their Social Security benefits subject to income taxes even if they don't work.

This entire area is excruciatingly complicated. Most people should visit a good accountant.

The Social Security Administration has a calculator on their website, that will estimate the reduction in benefits if your earnings exceed the allowed amount.