January 15, 2024

New life for an old rule of thumb – the four per cent withdrawal rate?

Let’s say you entered retirement with a large chunk of money – no monthly income other than government benefits.

How much can you afford to take out each year without risking running out of money in the future?

It’s an age-old question in retirement circles. Save with SPP once asked it of eminent retirement expert Dr. John Por who told us the answer is “unknowable,” since it would have to be based on “future interest rates, the stock markets, inflation, life expectancy and income needs.”

Writing for SmartAsset, Brian J. O’Connor says new research has found that the old “four per cent withdrawal” rule might be back in fashion.

So, what is the four per cent withdrawal rule, exactly?

“Created in 1994 by a financial planner named William Bengen, the four per cent rule posits that retirees can make a well-structured retirement fund last 30 years by withdrawing no more than four per cent of the balance in the first year of retirement, then adjusting subsequent withdrawals for inflation,” O’Connor explains.

With the volatile markets we’ve seen of late, some observers criticized the four per cent rule, arguing that in down markets, sticking to a four per cent withdrawal drives “returns risk.” In other words, if your investments are down, you are sort of “selling low” by withdrawing a set amount. Financial journalist Suze Orman, writes O’Connor, called for a more conservative three per cent withdrawal rate.

But, O’Connor continues, things are changing, and a recent Morningstar study seems to back the old four per cent idea once again.

“The investment analysis firm Morningstar has examined the safe rate of withdrawal for the first year of retirement for a few years running. Morningstar’s newest research finds that with the partial recovery of stocks, withdrawing up to four per cent is once again a safe starting point,” O’Connor notes.

Morningstar’s Amy Arnott tells O’Connor that these days, a four per cent withdrawal rate for today’s retirees has a 90 per cent chance of “still having funds remaining after a 30-year time horizon.” Research by Morningstar has made this safe withdrawal rate a moving target – in 2021, they recommended 3.3 per cent, and in 2022, 3.8 per cent.

As well, the research is based on a portfolio that has “20 to 40 per cent” exposure to stock.

The article concludes by noting that the shift in thinking to four per cent is driven by a drop in the long-term estimate for inflation and a rise in projected 30-year fixed income returns.

There’s another way of avoiding running out of money in retirement.

Members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can choose to annuitize some or all of their savings when they retire. With the annuity option, you can receive a payment on the first of the month, every single month for as long as you live. Want more flexibility? Check out SPP’s Variable Benefit, now available to all Canadian SPP members. You can take out as little or as much as you like with this option, and then can still consider annuitizing at a later date!

Check out SPP today!

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Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


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