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Save for Tomorrow

SOCIAL SECURITY benefits are fairly modest—the average retiree receives $1,555 per month or $18,660 a year—but they’re a vital source of retirement income for countless retirees. Today’s burning question: How can we shore up the program’s finances?
It’s estimated that Social Security provides some 30% of the income for the elderly and that nearly nine out of 10 people age 65 and older receive benefits. Social Security is even more important for women, 42% of whom rely on it for half or more of their income.

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Good Trumps Perfect

EARLIER THIS MONTH, The Wall Street Journal carried a seemingly innocuous article by Derek Horstmeyer, a finance professor at George Mason University. Horstmeyer described an analysis he and his research assistant had recently conducted. The question they sought to answer: Could investors achieve better results in their 401(k)s by avoiding target-date funds and instead constructing their own portfolios?

If you aren’t familiar with them, target-date funds are intended as all-in-one solutions for investors.

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Often Overlooked

PERSONAL FINANCE pundits love to debate safe withdrawal rates—the amount a retiree can withdraw each year from a portfolio without depleting it too quickly. I agree this is an important topic. In fact, I’ve addressed it a few times myself in recent months.

In July, I discussed the well-known 4% rule. A few weeks ago, I described an alternative called the bucket strategy. But as you build your retirement plan, withdrawal rates shouldn’t be the only consideration.

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Not a Law of Nature

THE 4% RULE IS ONE of the best-known ideas in personal finance. But is it really a rule? And does it apply to you?

Let’s start at the beginning. The father of the 4% rule is a financial planner named William Bengen. Back in the early 1990s, he became frustrated with the prevailing rules of thumb for retirement planning. He found them too informal and set out to develop a more rigorous approach. The question he sought to answer: What percentage of a portfolio could a retiree safely withdraw each year?

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Ask the Question

THERE’S NOTHING THAT deters financial planning like a scarily large price tag.
We should ask ourselves all kinds of tough financial questions. But many of the toughest never get asked—because we know answering them will involve agonizing choices, difficult conversations and unthinkable amounts of dollars. Consider these four:
1. How would you cope if you were out of work for six months? As I’ve noted in earlier articles, the big financial emergency isn’t replacing the roof or the air-conditioning system,

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Not Just a Number

MANY PEOPLE TELL ME they need, say, $1 million or $2 million to retire, effectively equating retirement with a dollar amount. But there’s more to retirement than just the financial side. It’s a major turning point that will alter virtually all of our priorities—how we spend our days, how we interact with loved ones, what we care about and what we hope to achieve.

Even if we focus only on the financial side, we can’t sum up retirement with a single number.

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Timing Those Taxes

TYPE THE WORDS “safe withdrawal rate” into Google and it’ll return more than a million results. I’m not surprised by this. People debate practically everything in personal finance, but the debate around this question is particularly intense.

For at least 25 years, the conventional wisdom has been that it’s safe for retirees to base portfolio withdrawals on the 4% rule. But not everyone agrees. Some feel that percentage should be higher, while others feel it ought to be lower.

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What a Drag

ONE PERCENT is the average annual cost charged by actively managed stock mutual funds. One percent is also the typical fee charged by financial advisors for managing a client’s portfolio. Paying 1% means keeping 99% for yourself. What’s the harm in that?
Here are some pictures of Lower Manhattan. It’s dotted with the skyscrapers that comprise the financial district, home to some of Wall Street’s largest firms. Just the seven largest U.S. banks together are worth more than $1.5 trillion (yes,

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Best If Shared

I KEPT THE LANDLINE number that my mother had when she was alive. I thought there might be friends I wasn’t aware of who would try to phone her. Indeed, I received calls from people like Helen who lives in Arizona, Cheryl in Colorado and Jan from Michigan. Eventually, however, the phone went silent, except for those annoying sales calls.
But I still kept the phone number. I just couldn’t give it up. It was costing me an extra $50 a month,

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Old Arguments

THERE ARE TWO GREAT debates in retirement planning: whether the famous 4% rule is valid—and how much income folks need, relative to their final salary, to retire in comfort.
I find both subjects frustrating, in part because there’s so little consensus. I also find much of the advice way too complicated for the average American.
I participate in NewRetirement’s Facebook group and occasionally give my views on both topics. I recently expressed the opinion that the goal in retirement should be to replace 100% of the base income you earned immediately before retirement.

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Rate Debate

THE 4% RULE HAS almost mythic status in the financial planning world. Originally suggested by Bill Bengen in a 1994 article, the rule provides a simple way for retirees to figure out how much they can withdraw from their portfolio without running out of money. In a recent article, Bengen updated his rule.
The rule defines the maximum amount retirees should withdraw from their portfolio in the first year of retirement. Got a $500,000 nest egg?

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Sweat the Big Stuff

I’D LIKE TO DESCRIBE—and recommend to you—what I’ll call the John Cleese approach to financial planning. It is, in my view, the simplest and most effective way to think about saving for retirement or any other goal.
John Cleese, the English actor and comedian, is largely retired. But in an interview, he described his approach to getting work done. When he had a weekly TV show, Cleese said, he didn’t worry about being unproductive some days.

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My Retirement

AS I PLAN MY retirement, I have the advantage of a strong background in finance. I worked for 35 years in the investment field, primarily managing mutual funds. Early on, I obtained the Chartered Financial Analyst designation, which helped immensely.
Six years ago, when I was age 55, I embarked on a journey to comprehend the myriad rules and strategies surrounding retirement. I studied to become an RICP—a Retirement Income Certified Professional. While the CFA was useful for investment management,

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In Withdrawal

RETIREMENT ISN’T JUST about reaching some magic savings number. You also need a strategy for turning that pile of savings into a reliable stream of retirement income that’ll last for the rest of your life.
In academic lingo, it’s about changing from accumulation to decumulation—and it’s a topic that my husband Jim and I grapple with, as we figure out how best to cover our retirement expenses. There are three common strategies:
Systematic withdrawals.

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50 Shades of Risk

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST financial risk we face? Today, many folks would point to the possibility of a recession, a stock market plunge and perhaps both. Indeed, those are perennial perils—but perhaps they shouldn’t be our biggest worries. Looking to lose sleep? Here are 50 other dangers we face:

Really, really long-term care.
Your financial advisor turns out to be a crook.
Your spouse leaves.
Double-digit inflation.
Your new neighbor specializes in personal-injury lawsuits.
Your son just got his driver’s license.

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