July 1, 2024

The trickiest retirement problem – living off a lump sum

When we work, we get paid on some sort of regular basis – we’ve been paid monthly (with an advance on the 15th), we’ve been paid every two weeks, we’ve been paid twice a month, and we’ve been paid every week.

But in retirement, you might find that instead of regular payments, you are living off a lump sum of money – a chunk that is at its biggest near the beginning of your retirement, and that declines as you get older. What’s tricky is figuring out how much to withdraw each year.

A recent Financial Post article looks at this tricky “drawdown” or “decumulation” phase, where retirement savings are turned into income.

Author Fraser Stark, who is president of the Longevity Pension Fund at Purpose Investments,  notes that a number of “rules” have sprung up about how much you should withdraw each year, such as the “the four per cent rule, the 3.3 per cent rule, (and) the 2.26 per cent rule.” He adds that “whatever your number, these prescribed income level rules of thumb seem to point to lower – and more precise – values.”

The question for retirees to answer, he explains, is “how much can I safely withdraw from my retirement portfolio each year without the risk of running out of money?”

And while no one wants to run out of money, Stark says not taking out enough money each year is also a risk. It means you may not be living as well as you could be, he explains.

“The premise of these rules is that the opposite — not running out — constitutes success. This is where the logic behind these rules begins to fray,” he writes.

“Honing in on the `correct’ value misses the point: the entire premise of holding a basket of assets and drawing from it blindly is a suboptimal approach that often leads to inefficient outcomes for retired investors,” he explains.

The granddaddy of all withdrawal rules, the four per cent rule, was posited by Bill Bengen in 1994, writes Stark. “His analysis determined that an investor who started spending four per cent of their original portfolio value… would have not fully depleted their balanced portfolio over any 30-year period,” he explains.

The idea, Stark continues, is four per cent (on average) is a rate of withdrawal that is less than long-term rates of growth. For example, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan has averaged a rate of return of eight per cent since its inception in the late 1980s.

However, the four per cent rule assumes that the retiree is going to be able to live with a “fixed spending level” throughout his or her retirement. “It is truly set it and forget it, which is not how people behave,” he explains.

As well, he writes, people are now living longer. Mortality tables suggest that a 65-year-old woman today has a “great than 34 per cent chance of living for 35 years,” or until age 100. So you are withdrawing funds for many more years than people did in the past, Stark explains.

What, then, do you do to avoid running out of money – especially if you find yourself blowing out 100 candles on your birthday cake? The answer, says Stark, is an annuity.

“A more effective approach is to annuitize a portion of your assets at retirement, thereby creating a stream of sustainable income and withdrawing from the rest of your portfolio according to your percentage rule of choice,” he writes. You can never run out of money in an annuity, as you’ll receive it for as long as you live, he explains.

He also suggests starting Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security later – these payments are inflation-protected and also are paid for life.

“Much has changed over those three decades. In the face of rising living costs, greater macro uncertainty and continued innovation in financial product design, an optimal outcome for many investors can be achieved by more thoughtfully constructing an initial portfolio to meet their desired outcomes, and by dynamically responding to market and life conditions as the retirement phase unfolds. We deserve no less,” he concludes.

The option of a lifetime annuity payment is available to members of the SPP. When it’s time to collect your pension, you can choose to receive some or all of your account balance as an annuity, meaning you’ll get a monthly payment for the rest of your life. If you want more flexibility around the amount you want to receive, take a look at SPP’s Variable Benefit.

SPP’s varied retirement options, coupled with its professionally managed, low-cost investment strategy, make it a reliable partner for your retirement saving and income plans.

Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *