Retirement Portfolio Distribution – vital considerations

Not sure when and how to start dipping into your hard-earned retirement funds? It’s a BIG consideration with BIG implications. How might you withdraw your money without worry that you’ll outlive your portfolio?

You could use a generic retirement distribution model that targets a 4% withdrawal from your portfolio (if portfolio is allocated at 60/40 equities/bonds). This generic model focuses on not outliving your assets and often leaves much to be desired in terms of maximizing how you distribute your portfolio efficiently. This is where a retirement distribution plan is absolutely vital since it will outline the amount that you need to meet your specific needs each year, the impact on taxes and on your ability to not outlive your portfolio (particularly important 5-10 years to retirement).

Many studies demonstrate that creating a portfolio withdrawal plan that more closely fits your needs in early retirement while providing for your wishes later in retirement leads to a successful retirement. Of course, retirement planning first requires that you’ve accumulated enough assets to support your lifestyle for the length of your potential retirement. It should also allow for unexpected obstacles and other goals.

You may find after discussions that your retirement of choice might be much different than a standard generic model. In some cases, it is in your best interests to keep working even part-time into your “retirement.” This is becoming more and more the case (so don’t feel alone if it comes to that) even if you have enough assets to support full retirement.

A recent study by T. Rowe Price revealed that 22% of recent retirees have rejoined the workforce at least part-time and of these 18% are earning as much as they were earning prior to retirement. Of course others have chosen to adjust their budgets to extend the life of their portfolio and are living on 67% of pre-retirement incomes rather than returning to employment. The study found that retirees are covering their early retirement expenses from the following sources: 18% from pension plans, 42% from social security and 17% from tax-advantaged accounts.

The latest methods for funding retirement are much more specific to your individual situation than a flat 4% withdrawal. When working together (5-6 years to retirement) we’ll formulate your distribution plan through retirement. This would include how your portfolio will be allowed to recover from any potential market decline and how it provides for your wishes during the 30-40 years in retirement. As retirement approaches (or whenever you make the request) we will outline the latest successful approaches to asset distribution for your situation – we want to be sure that you don’t unnecessarily skimp through early retirement or outlive your portfolio later in life.

A formal retirement distribution plan should include a review of alternative income streams, a financial breakdown of at least the first 3 years of retirement, an overall budget for those years, including expected distribution and social security. This is when the value of having different cash flow streams becomes obvious. Taxable accounts, tax free, pension/social security, annuities, and tax-deferred are the usual assets considered in all retirement distribution plans.

By setting the finances for the first years in retirement, you can plan for the potential of a market downturn and also the possibility of allocating more during the first 10 years of retirement if you so wish. Most often, families want to spend their first 10 years traveling or hosting family events as a way of enjoying their most active phase of retirement.

The most obvious danger of ad-hoc or unplanned withdrawals from a portfolio is that the account balance dwindles faster than any return can support. By funding non-budget needs, the portfolio may no longer be able to fund the necessary budget items that are important in that client’s lifetime. To succeed, this requires open communication with our clients, their trust in our work, and their discipline to rein-in non-budget expenses.

Retirement can last 30-40 years and can exhaust any portfolio without a distribution plan. Outside of retirement, your other goals may or may not need a separate distribution plan (we do one for college plans and home purchase too). Speak to your advisor if you are in any way uncertain about how or when to tap into any of your portfolio savings.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®