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Tiresome Debates

WHEN I WORKED at The Wall Street Journal, editors used to quip that, “There are no new stories, just new reporters.” I don’t know whether that’s the case with politics, sports and technology articles, but it sure rings true for personal finance and investing stories. All too often, the latest hot topic just seems like a rehash of something I’ve witnessed—and often written about—before.
That brings me to three financial arguments that never seem to end.

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Retirement Riddles

I SPEND SIGNIFICANT time reading the viewpoints of people who are planning for retirement or who are already retired. My frequent reaction: What are they thinking?
When I review retirement planning discussions on Facebook and elsewhere, I often find the participants show little understanding of how to proceed or even what some basic terms mean. Here’s a sampling of the confusion and uncertainty I come across:

Should people aim to replace 70%, 80% or some other percentage of their preretirement income?

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Drawdown Drawbacks

LOTS OF RESEARCH has been done on the best way to generate retirement income. It’s one of the most popular topics on HumbleDollar. I think this popularity is driven by two things: its obvious importance—and the fact that there’s no one right answer.
By contrast, figuring out how much we need to save for retirement is relatively easy. It isn’t hard to pick a future retirement date, or at least a range of years during which we’ll likely retire,

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After You Leave

VIEW ANY NUMBER of YouTube videos on retirement planning, and you’ll find advice on how much you need to save each month, how to invest, how much to accumulate and how to generate retirement income. The same is true for the experts who write blogs.
All this information relates to the retiree. Rarely—actually never—have I seen a discussion about survivor benefits. Even the 4% rule uses an assumed 30-year retirement period, apparently ignoring the possibility that retirement income needs to last over two lifetimes that may extend beyond 30 years,

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Four Debates

HARRY MARKOWITZ was a graduate student in economics at the University of Chicago. It was 1954, and he had just finished defending his thesis. Most of the committee accepted his work. But Milton Friedman, an economist with a national reputation and easily the most influential member of the economics faculty, had a problem. While he found no errors in Markowitz’s work, the problem was that it contained no economics. Markowitz’s thesis was about investments and,

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A Modest Proposal

LOOKING BACK OVER the past two years, one word comes to mind: extreme. It’s been a period of extremes in the market and the economy. Many have benefitted, but we’ve also seen excesses that aren’t necessarily healthy—from the rise in NFTs to the craze in SPACs to the boom in day trading. That’s why, as you look ahead to the coming year, the theme I recommend is moderation.

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Four or Less

A RECENT ARTICLE from Morningstar suggested that the 4% rule for sustainable retirement withdrawals should be revised downward to 3.3%. This lower rate, the researchers argued, is safer given today’s rich stock market valuations and low bond yields.
The article also recommended being flexible with withdrawals, by taking larger amounts in good markets and smaller withdrawals during down periods. This strategy could provide more lifetime income than fixing a withdrawal amount in the first year and then automatically increasing that sum each year with inflation.

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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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