The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College is a tremendous resource for those planning for, or in, retirement. The center created the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) to capture a macroeconomic level measure of how those in the USA are progressing toward retirement.
Based on the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances the Center updated the NRRI results (the entire article is a very good read).
The lower the risk number in the chart the better, so things have not been going well since the 1990s for those in the USA saving for retirement.
As the report discusses their are significant issues with retirement planning that defy easy prediction; this makes things even more challenging for those saving for retirement. The report discusses the difficulty placed on retirees by the Fed’s extremely low interest rate policy (a policy that provides billions each year to too-big-too-fail banks – hardly the reward that should be provided for bringing the world to economic calamity but never-the-less that transfer of wealth from retirees to too-big-to-fail banks is the policy the Fed has chosen).
That exacerbates the problems of too little savings during the working career for those in the USA. The continued evidence is that those in the USA continue to spend too much today and save too little. Also you have to expect the Fed and politicians will continue to make policy that favors their friends at too-big-fail banks and hedge funds and the like. You can’t expect them to behave differently than they have been the last 50 years. That means the likely actions by the government to take from median income people to aid the richest 1% (such as bailing out the bankers with super low interest rate policies and continue to subsidize losses and privatize their winning bets) will continue. You need to have extra savings to support those policies. Of course we could change to do things differently but there is no realistic evidence of any move to do so. Retirement planning needs to be based on evidence, not hopes about how things should be.
Related: How Much of Current Income to Save for Retirement – Save What You Can, Increase Savings as You Can Do So – Don’t Expect to Spend Over 4% of Your Retirement Investment Assets Annually – Retirement Planning: Looking at Assets (2012) – How Much Will I Need to Save for Retirement? (2009)
Delaying when you start collecting Social Security benefits in the USA can enhance your personal financial situation. You may start collecting benefits at 62, but each year you delay collecting increases your payment by 5% to 8% (see below). If you retire before your “normal social security retirement age” (see below) your payments are reduced from the calculated monthly payment (which is based on your earnings and the number of years you paid into the social security fund). If you delay past that age you get a 8% bonus added to your monthly payment for each year you delay.
The correct decision depends on your personal financial situation and your life expectancy. The social security payment increases are based on life expectancy for the entire population but if your life expectancy is significantly different that can change what option makes sense for you. If you live a short time you won’t make up for missing payments (the time while you delayed taking payments) with the increased monthly payment amount.
The “normal social security retirement age” is set in law and depends on when you were born. If you were born prior to 1938 it is 65 and if you are born after 1959 it is 67 (in between those dates it slowly increases. Those born in 1959 will reach the normal social security retirement age of 67 in 2026.
The social security retirement age has fallen far behind demographic trends – which is why social security deductions are so large today (it used to be social security payments for the vast majority of people did not last long at all – they died fairly quickly, that is no longer the case). The way to cope with this is either delay the retirement ago or increase the deductions. The USA has primarily increased the deductions, with a tiny adjustment of the retirement age (increasing it only 2 years over several decades). We would be better off if they moved back the normal retirement age at least another 3 to 5 years (for the payment portion – given the broken health care system in the USA retaining medicare ages as they are is wise).
In the case of early retirement, a benefit is reduced 5/9 of one percent for each month (6.7% annually) before normal retirement age, up to 36 months. If the number of months exceeds 36, then the benefit is further reduced 5/12 of one percent per month (5% annually).
For delaying your payments after you have reached normal social security retirement age increases payments by 8% annually (there were lower amounts earlier but for people deciding today that is the figure to use).
Lets take a quick look at a simple example:
Dylan Grice suggests the Cockroach Portfolio: 25% cash; 25% government bonds; 25% equities; and 25% gold. What we can learn from the cockroach
Government bonds protect against deflation (provided your money’s invested in solid government bonds and not trash). Equities offer capital growth and income. And gold, as we know, protects against currency depreciation, inflation, and financial collapse. It’s vitally important to maintain holdings in each, in my opinion.
The beauty of a ‘static’ allocation across these four asset classes is that it removes emotion from the investment process.
I don’t really agree with this but I think it is an interesting read. And I do agree the standard stock/bond/cash portfolio model is not good enough.
I would rather own real estate than gold. I doubt I would ever have more than 5% gold and only would suggest that if someone was really rich (so had money to put everywhere). Even then I imagine I would balance it with investments in other commodities.
One of the many problems with “stock” allocations is that doesn’t tell you enough. I think global exposure is wise (to some extent S&P 500 does this as many of those companies have huge international exposure – still I would go beyond that). Also I would be willing to take some stock in commodities type companies (oil and gas, mining, real estate, forests…) as a different bucket than “stocks” even though they are stocks.
And given the super low interest rates I see dividend paying stocks as an alternative to bonds.
The Cockroach Portfolio does suggest only government bonds (and is meant for the USA where those bonds are fairly sensible I think) but in the age of the internet many of my readers are global. It may well not make sense to have a huge portion of your portfolio in many countries bonds. And outside the USA I wouldn’t have such a large portion in USA bonds. And they don’t address the average maturity (at least in this article) – I would avoid longer maturities given the super low rates now. If rates were higher I would get some long term bonds.
These adjustments mean I don’t have as simple a suggestion as the cockroach portfolio. But I think that is sensible. There is no one portfolio that makes sense. What portfolio is wise depends on many things.
There are many asset allocation strategies; which often are pretty similar. In general they oversimplify the situation (so an investor needs to study and adjust them to their situation – though most don’t do this, which is a problem). In general, I think asset allocation suggestions are too heavily weighted on bonds, and that is even more true today in the current environment – of could that is just my opinion.
I ran across this suggested allocation in Eyewitness to a Wall Street mugging which I think has several good values.
- It focuses on low fee, market index funds. Fees are incredibly important in determining long term investment success
- It has lower bond allocation than normal
- It has more international exposure than many – which I think is wise (this suggested portfolio is for those in the USA, USA portion should be lowered for others)
- It includes real estate (some suggested allocations miss this entirely)
In my opinion this allocation should be adjusted as you get closer to retirement (put a bit more into more stable, income producing investments).
My personal preference is to use high quality dividend stocks in the current interest rate environment. I would buy them myself which does require a bit more work than once a year rebalancing that the lazy golfer portfolio allows.
I would also include 10% for Vanguard emerging markets fund (VWO) (for sake of a rule of thumb reduce Inflation Protected Securities Fund to 10% if you are more than 10 years from retirement, when between 10 and 1 year from retirement put Inflation Protected Securities Fund at 15% and Total Stock Market Index Fund at 35%, when 1 year from retirement or retired lower emerging market to 5% and put 5% in money market.
Depending on your other assets this portfolio should be adjusted (large real estate holdings [large net value on personal home, investment real estate…] can mean less real estate in this portfolio, 401k holdings may mean you want to tweak this [TIAA CREF has a very good real estate fund, if you have access to it you might make real estate a high value in your 401k and then adjust your lazy portfolio], large pension means you can lower income producing assets, how close you are to retirement, etc.).
The Lazy Golfer Portfolio (Annually rebalance the fund on your birthday and ignore Wall Street for the remaining 364 days of the year) contains 5 Vanguard index funds
- 40% Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX)
- 20% Total International Stock Index Fund (VGTSX)
- 20% Inflation Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX)
- 10% Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBMFX)
- 10% REIT Index Fund (VGSIX)
Related: Retirement Planning, Looking at Asset Allocation – Lazy Portfolio Results – Investment Risk Matters Most as Part of a Portfolio, Rather than in Isolation – Starting Retirement Account Allocations for Someone Under 40 – Taking a Look at Some Dividend Aristocrats
Mosaic offers a new investment option to easily invest in solar energy projects. Mosaic connects investors seeking steady, reliable returns to high quality solar projects. To date, over $2.1 million has been invested through Mosaic and investors have received 100% on-time repayments.
The site provides full prospectives on each project. The yields have been between 4.5% and 5% for 8 to 10 year projects. The funds pay for solar installation and then the locations that take the loans pay them back with the saving on their electricity bill (sometimes selling power to the utility based on the organizations electricity needs and amount generated at any specific time).
The bonds have risks, of course. And I am pretty sure they are very illiquid. But for those looking for some decent yield alternatives they may offer a good choice. They also provide the benefit of supporting green energy
The current bond being offered, 657 kW on Pinnacle Charter School in Federal Heights, Colorado offers a yield of 5.4%. The public offerings have only been available for a few months and they have sold out quickly so far.
Mosaic has done a good job creating a simple process to invest online. You create your account and if you chose to invest and are allocated a portion of an offering it is funded from your bank account. You can invest as little as $25.
Determining exactly what needs to be saved for retirement is tricky. Basically it is something that needs to be adjusted based on how things go (savings accumulated, saving rate, planned retirement date, investing returns, predicted investing returns, government policy, tax rates, etc.). The simple idea is start by saving 15% of salary by the time you are 30. Then adjust over time. If you start earlier maybe you can get by with 12%…
How Much to Save for Retirement is a very good report by the Boston College center for retirement research. They look at the percent of income replacement social security (for those in the USA) provides. This amount varies greatly depending on your income and retirement (date you start drawing social security payments).
Low earners ($20,000) that retire at 65 have 49% of income replaced by social security. Waiting only 2 years, to 67, the replacement amount increases to 55%. For medium earners ($50,000) 36% and 41% of income is replaced. And for high earners ($90,000) 30% an 34%.
Starting savings early make a huge difference. Starting retirement savings at age 25 requires about 1/3 the percentage of income be saved as starting at 45. So you can save for example 7% from age 25 to 70 or 18% from age 45 to 70. Retiring at 62 versus 70 also carries a cost of about 3 times as great savings required each year. So retiring at 62 would require an impossible 65% if you didn’t start saving until 45. But these numbers are affected by many things (the higher your income the less social security helps so the higher percentages you need to save and many other factors play a role).
Starting to save early is a huge key. Delaying retirement makes a big difference but it is not nearly as much in your control. You can plan on doing that but need to understand that you cannot assume you will get to set the date (either because finding a job you can do and pays what you wish is not easy or you are not healthy enough to work full time).
If you don’t have social security (those outside the USA – some countries have their versions but some don’t offer anything) you need to save more. A good strategy is to start saving for retirement in your twenties. As you get raises increase your percentage. So if you started at 6% (maybe 4% from you and a 2% match, but in any event 6% total) each time you get a raise increase your percentage 100 basis points (1 percentage point).
If you started at 27 at 6% and got a raise each year for 9 years you would then be at 15% by age 36. Then you could start looking at how you were going and make some guesstimates about the future. Maybe you could stabilize at 15% or maybe you could keep increasing the amount. If you can save more early (start at 8% or increase by 150 or 200% basis points a year) that is even better. Building up savings early provides a cushion for coping with negative shocks (being unemployed for a year, losing your job and having to take a new job earning 25% less, very bad decade of investing returns, etc.).
Investing wisely makes a big difference also. The key for retirement savings is safety first, especially as you move closer to retirement. But you need to think of investment safety as an overall portfolio. The safest portfolio is well balanced not a portfolio consisting of just an investment people think of as safe by itself.
Related: Retirement Planning, Investing Asset Considerations – Saving for Retirement Must Be a Personal Finance Priority – Investment Risk Matters Most as Part of a Portfolio, Rather than in Isolation
Pitfalls in Retirement (pdf) is quite a good white paper from Meril Lynch, I strongly recommend it.
could safely spend 10% or more of their savings each year.
But, as explained below, the respondents most on target were the one in 10 who estimated sustainable spending rates to be 5% or less. This is significantly impacted by life expectancy; if you have a much lower life expectancy due to retiring later or significant health issues perhaps you can spend more. But counting on this is very risky.
This is likely one of the top 5 most important things to know about saving for retirement (and just 10% of the population got the answer right). You need to know that you can safely spend 5%, or likely less, of your investment assets safely in retirement (without dramatically eating into your principle.
The chart is actually quite good, the paper also includes another good example (which is helpful in showing how much things can be affected by somewhat small changes*). One piece of good news is they assume much larger expense rates than you need to experience if you choose well. They assume 1.3% in fees. You can reduce that by 100 basis points using Vanguard. They also have the portfolio split 50% in stocks (S&P 500) and 50% in bonds.
Several interesting points can be drawn from this data. One the real investment returns matter a great deal. A 4% withdrawal rate worked until the global credit crisis killed investment returns at which time the sustainability of that rate disappeared. A 5% withdrawal rate lasted nearly 30 years (but you can’t count on that at all, it depends on what happens with you investment returns).
The data would be better if some value were placed on defined benefit plans; currently it is a bit confusing how much they may help. But the $25,000 threshold is so low that no matter what being under that value is extremely bad news for anyone over 40. And failing to have saved over just $25,000 toward retirement is bad news for anyone over 30 without a defined benefit plan.
Thirty-four percent of workers report they had to dip into savings to pay for basic expenses in the past 12 months.
Thirty-five percent of all workers think they need to accumulate at least $500,000 by the time they retire to live comfortably in retirement. Eighteen percent feel they need between $250,000 and $499,999, while 34 percent think they need to save less than $250,000 for a comfortable retirement.
Workers who have performed a retirement needs calculation are more than twice as likely as those who have not (23 percent vs. 10 percent) to expect they will need to accumulate at least $1 million before retiring.
66% of workers say their family has retirement savings and 58% say they are currently saving for retirement. These results are fairly consistent over the last few decades (the current values are in the lower ranges of results).
Nearly everyone wishes they had more money. One way to act as though you have more than you do is to borrow and spend (which is normally unwise – it can make sense for a house and in limited amounts when you are first going out on your own). Another is to ignore long term needs and just live it up today. That is a very bad personal finance strategy but one many people follow. Saving for retirement is a personal finance requirement. If you can’t save for retirement given your current income and lifestyle you need to reduce your current spending to save or increase your income and then save for retirement.
A year or two of failing to do so is acceptable. Longer stretches add more and more risk to your personal financial situation. It may not be fun to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and plan for the long term. But failing to do so is a big mistake. Determining the perfect amount to save for retirement is complicated. A reasonable retirement saving plan is not.
Saving 10% of your gross income from the time you are 25 until 65 gives you a decent ballpark estimate. Then you can adjust even 5 or 10 years as you can look at your situation. It will likely take over 10% to put you in a lifestyle similar to the one you enjoy while working. But many factors are at play. To be safer saving at 12% could be wise. If you know you want to work less than 40 years saving more could be wise. If you have a defined benefit plan (rare now, but, for example police or fire personnel often still do you can save less but you must work until you gain those benefits or you will be in extremely bad shape.
IRAs, 401(k) and 403(b) plans are a great way to save for retirement (giving you tax deferral and Roth versions of those plans are even better – assuming tax rates rise).
I believe long term disability insurance is a must for a safe personal financial plan. The risk of not being covered isn’t worth it. An office worker should have a very low risk of something happening that qualifies you for receiving benefits (even with fairly serious injuries for a hunter-gatherer or farmer they can earn a living).
That is actually the perfect situation for insurance. Insurance should be cheap when the risk is small. You want insurance for unlikely but very costly events. You don’t want insurance for likely and inexpensive events (paying the middle man just adds to the cost).
I believe, other than health insurance it is the most important insurance. For someone with dependents life insurance can be important too. And auto and homeowners insurance are also important. Insurance if an important part of a smart personal finance. It is wise to chose high deductibles (to reduce cost).
In many things I believe you can chose what you want to do and just deal with the results. Forgoing health or disability insurance I think don’t fall into that category. Just always have those coverages. I think doing without is just a bad idea.
When I would have had gaps in coverage from work, I have purchased disability insurance myself.
I am all in favor of saving money. About the only 2 things I don’t believe in saving money being very important are health and disability insurance. Get high deductible insurance in general (you should insure against small loses). And with disability insurance you can reduce the cost by having the insurance only start after 6 or 12 months (I chose 12). As you get close to retirement (say 5 years) the risk is much less, you only have so many earning years left. If you wanted to save some money at that point it might be ok if you have saved well for retirement and have a cushion (in case you have to retire 3 year early). Long term care insurance may well be wise to get (if you didn’t when it was cheaper and you were younger. Long term care insurance is really tricky and very tied to whatever our politicians decide not to do (or do) about the broken health care system we have in the USA. The cost also becomes higher as it is moving toward a likely event, instead of a unlikely event (as you age you are more frail).
In my opinion is has never been more difficult to plan for retirement. It is extremely difficult to guess what rates of return should be expected in the next 10-30 years. It might have actually been as difficult 10 years ago, but it seemed that it wasn’t. Estimating a 7-8% return for your portfolio seemed a pretty reasonable thing to do, and evening considering 10% wasn’t unthinkable, if you wanted to be optimistic and took more risk.
Today it is very hard to guess, going forward, what is reasonable. It is also hard to find any very safe decent yields. Is 4% a good estimate for your portfolio? 6%? 8%? What about inflation? I know inflation isn’t a huge concern of people right now, but I still think it is a very real risk. I think trying to project is helpful (even with all the uncertainty). But it is more important than ever to look at various scenarios and consider the risks if things don’t go as well as you hope. The best way to deal with that is to save more.
In the USA save at least 10% of your income for retirement in your own savings (in addition to social security) and it would be better to save 12% and you might even need to be saving 15%. And if you waited beyond 30 to start doing this you have to save substantially more, to have a comfortable retirement plan (obviously if you are willing to live at a much lower standard of living in retirement than before, you can save less).
Other factors matter too. If you don’t own your house with no more mortgage payments you will need to save more. Ideally you will have not debts at retirement, if you do, again you need to save more.
Vanguard founder Jack Bogle has a slightly more upbeat assessment. He expects stock returns of 7 percent to 7.5 percent over the next decade. He assumes no expansion in the market’s price-earnings ratio, dividend yields of 2.2 percent, and earnings growth of at least 5 percent. Bogle expects bond returns to be about 3 percent. For a balanced portfolio, that produces a net nominal return of slightly more than 6 percent. A higher forecast is T. Rowe Price’s estimate of 7 percent; until this year it had used 8 percent.
I also suggest using high quality high yield dividend stocks for more of the bond portfolio. I wouldn’t hold bonds with maturities over 5 years at these yields (or if I did, they would be an extremely small portion of the portfolio). I would also have a fair amount of the bond portfolio in inflation protected bonds.
I also invest in emerging economies like China, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the continent of Africa… To some extent you get that with large companies like Google, Intel, Tesco, Toyota, Apple… that are making lots of money in emerging economies and continuing to invest more in emerging markets. VWO (.22% expense ratio) is a good exchange traded fund (ETF) for emerging markets. I also believe investing in real estate is wise as part of a retirement portfolio.