You worked hard for your money. You planned for retirement. But now you’re getting nervous. U.S. stocks gained 233 percent between January 2009 and September 2017. If you retire this year, and stocks take a dive, could you run out of money?
This is a common fear. Stocks have fallen before. But if your portfolio is diversified, low-cost, and you keep a cool head, your future should be fine.
Stock market historians remember 1973. It would have been a horrible year to retire. U.S. stocks fell 18.18 percent. Retirees hoped that stocks would soon recover. But that didn’t happen. Stocks fell an additional 27.81 percent in 1974.
Many financial advisors recommend a maximum 4 percent inflation-adjusted withdrawal rate. In such a case, a retired couple with $50,000 in 1973 would have withdrawn $2000 during their first year of retirement. The following year, they would have withdrawn slightly more to cover the rising cost of living (inflation).
If the retirees’ portfolio included 60 percent U.S. stocks and 40 percent U.S. government bonds, their initial $50,000 would have shriveled to $34,589 by the end of 1974. The portfolio was falling. Fuel prices were soaring. Between 1973 and 1975, oil prices almost tripled.
Inflation had also increased by 12.34 percent in 1974. President Nixon was impeached that year. In 1975, unemployment hit 8.5 percent. The future looked bleak.
But the portfolio would have been fine if the investors didn’t panic. If the retirees had continued to withdraw an inflation-adjusted 4 percent per year, they would have taken a combined total of $51,956 from their portfolio by 1985. In other words, they would have withdrawn more money from their account than it was worth when they retired in 1973.
And they would have had some money left. According to portfoliovisualizer.com, they would have had $68,924 by December 31, 1985. Once again, that’s more than they would have started with in 1973.
If their longevity began to rival America’s oldest married couple, they might have continued to withdraw an inflation-adjusted 4 percent per year for a few more decades. If they had done so, by December 31, 2016 they would have withdrawn a total of $321,317 from their initial $50,000 portfolio. By August 31, 2017, their portfolio would have been worth $99,867. 1
Assume another couple retired in 2001. They had $100,000. Sixty percent was invested in a U.S. stock index, 40 percent in a U.S. government bond index. That year’s stock market returns would have kicked them in the gut. In 2001, U.S. stocks fell 10.97 percent. Things got worse in 2002 when the market fell another 20.96 percent. By December 31, 2002, their initial $100,000 would have dropped to $81,830.
The financial crisis in 2008/2009 would have kicked them once again. In 2008, U.S. stocks fell 37.04 percent. But the couple would have been fine– if they had kept their cool.
After 17 years of retirement, they would have withdrawn $77,868 from their initial $100,000 portfolio. By August 2017, the portfolio would have been valued at $131,896.
As simple as this sounds, however, it might not be for everyone. I used market returns (60 percent stocks, 40 percent bonds) to calculate these results. Index funds beat most actively managed funds. If the fees on an actively managed portfolio were 1.5 percent per year, retirees that withdraw 4 percent would really be withdrawing 5.5 percent. Four percent would go to the retirees. The remaining 1.5 percent would pay for mutual fund fees. Retirees that pay high investment fees increase the odds that they’ll run out of money.
Index funds only underperform the market in proportion to the fees charged. But you could build a low-cost portfolio of index funds for less than 0.15 percent per year. If you maintained a constant allocation, you would likely underperform your benchmark by about 0.15 percent annually. Low fees would reduce your odds of running out of money.
Speculation also hurts retirement’s golden years. Most investors underperform the funds they own. When a fund doesn’t perform well, many investors sell it. They often add the proceeds to their better-performing funds. But fortunes often reverse. The fund they sold often performs well after they sell it. The fund they buy often stinks after they have bought it.
Such destructive behavior is more common among investors that buy actively managed funds. It wreaks havoc on retirement plans.
If maintaining a diversified portfolio (and not speculating) sounds tough when coupled with selling an inflation-adjusted 4 percent per year, investors could use abri.
It uses algorithms to determine the best time to take Social Security payments. It determines how to best utilize traditional pension plans, 401(k)s and 403(b)s. Abri also determines retirees’ tax efficient strategies.
If you have a steady hand, heart and gut, you might not need it. You could retire before a market crash, follow the rules above and your money should last a lifetime.
But it’s nice to know that abri offers a flexible option for everyone.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.