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September 16, 2022

Six Tips for Making a Retirement Drawdown Strategy
Alli Thomas

After decades of planning and putting money away, you may think it would be easy for most people to shift from a savings mindset to a spending mindset. Yet one often overlooked aspect of retirement planning is making a retirement drawdown strategy. 

When mapping out your retirement withdrawal strategy, you must consider factors that include: 

  • Your marital status 
  • Your savings 
  • Your life expectancy 
  • The kinds of retirement accounts you have 
  • What you think your living expenses will be in retirement. 

Here are six tips that will help you plan a retirement drawdown strategy that accounts for these and other key variables and provides you with a predictable annual income: 

Plan in Advance to Minimize Taxes

Reducing your tax bill will have one of the biggest impacts on how much money you have for retirement. Advance tax planning that takes advantage of all three tax “buckets” – taxable accounts (savings account, investment accounts), tax-deferred accounts (traditional IRAs, 401(k)s), and tax-free accounts (Roth IRAs, tax-exempt bonds) – can reduce your taxable income in retirement, leaving you with more money after you make your withdrawal (and reducing how much money you need to take out to maintain your lifestyle).  

There could also be additional tools, such as trusts, that you could take advantage of to reduce your tax liability. Your tax plan will guide you to a tax-efficient withdrawal strategy that helps you get the most out of your retirement savings. 

Don’t forget about required minimum distributions 

Once you turn 72, you will have to take required minimum distributions from your tax-deferred accounts. This covers all employer-sponsored retirement plans and all traditional IRA variants. You will have to take a distribution based on the amount in each account, modified by a life expectancy factor that the IRS publishes every year. These calculations can be complex, so you will benefit from working with a financial advisor to ensure you take the correct amount (if you don’t, the IRS will hit you with a substantial penalty) in addition to allocating your assets in the most tax-efficient way possible.

Make the Right Decision About Social Security Benefits

The debate about whether it’s better to take Social Security earlier or postpone it rages on. Your ideal age to start collecting those benefits depends on several factors, including your marital status, how much you need the money, and even whether your family has a history of early death or terminal disease. 

If you decide to start collecting as early as possible (at age 62), you’ll get 30% less than if you had waited until your full retirement age (which is based on your birth date). If you can manage to delay taking it until age 70, your monthly benefit may be up to 24% more. 

Social security benefits can be taxable

Be sure to include your benefits in your tax plan as they become taxable after a certain income level – above $25,000 for single filers and $32,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Choose the Right Pension Payout

If you’re lucky enough to have a defined benefit plan, you must decide how to withdraw those assets. Should you take a lump-sum payout, or annuitize your pension? Each option has benefits and disadvantages. Pension withdrawal strategies can be complex, so it’s best to consult a financial advisor before making any decisions. Your pension withdrawal strategy should also be accounted for in your tax plan. 

Balance Guaranteed Income and Long-Term Growth

Guaranteed retirement income includes Social Security benefits, payouts from pension plans, and annuities. Variable retirement income comes from earnings on your investments. You’ll need to determine how much guaranteed income you’ll need to cover non-negotiable living expenses (like housing, healthcare, and food). 

Once you’ve determined those costs, then you can decide how much variable income is required to pay for your discretionary expenses (such as your hobbies, travel, and entertainment). This will help you decide how you allocate your investment portfolio, 

Plan for Longevity

Lifespans keep rising. Depending on your health, you could be looking at spending between 20 or 30 years in retirement. How can you avoid outliving your savings?  

Some options to explore are working longer, maxing out your contributions to retirement plans, and using other types of financial products such as an annuity, which can guarantee an income stream for life.

Account for Inflation

Most people invest more conservatively as they age. Of course, you shouldn’t put your nest egg at risk by investing too aggressively. At the same time, the earnings on your investments MUST keep pace with inflation. That means they should exceed at least 3% a year. Otherwise, your savings will eventually lose their purchasing power – and you could run out of money. 

The challenge from a high rate of inflation is that you need more money to maintain your lifestyle.  However, unless your investments provide a higher rate of return, withdrawing more increases the likelihood of running out of money. At the same time, the 4% rule, a popular retirement withdrawal strategy that provides a larger amount of income is falling out of favor. 

What is the 4% rule 

The 4% rule has been around since the mid-1990s. The basic premise of this strategy is that retirees can withdraw 4% of their portfolio savings in their first year of retirement.  In each subsequent year, that amount gets adjusted to account for inflation.  However, some experts now say that 4% is too much money to withdraw and recent research from Morningstar suggests that a better starting withdrawal rate would be 3.3%.   

Why could withdrawing 4% be too much?

Yields on bonds, which tend to be a popular investment option for retirees, have been extremely low in the last decade, while stocks have been very expensive.  These two factors make it unlikely that the 4% withdrawal rate will remain feasible for retirees. With a high rate of inflation, a lower withdrawal rate would likely mean a reduction in your lifestyle.   

However, the assumptions used in the research skew to the more conservative side, based on a 90% probability that a retiree won’t run out within 30 years; a less conservative approach could provide for a higher withdrawal rate. Additionally, the 4% (or 3.3%) rule does not consider non-investment income sources. 

The importance of planning 

The combination of high inflation and lower returns makes evaluating retirement withdrawal strategies harder than before.  If you’re planning on retiring soon, now is the time to start narrowing down your options. This challenging task can be made easier when working with a professional advisor.   

Get started with an evaluation of your financial plan. Click here to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation meeting with one of our advisors. 

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