Will Inflation And The Stock Market Conspire To Kill The 4% Rule?

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A recent WSJ headline sent chills down the backs of every retiree—”Cut Your Retirement Spending Now, Says Creator of the 4% Rule.”

In the article, the WSJ quoted the father of the 4% rule, William Bengen, as saying that “there’s no precedent for today’s conditions.” Stock and bond prices are still at record highs. Mix in a reference to 8.5% inflation, and the WSJ starts to sound like an insurance salesperson pitching indexed annuities.

So are things really that bad? And do retirees need to rethink the 4% Rule? I don’t think so, and here’s why.

The 4% Rule is Now the 4.4% Rule

In the article, Mr. Bengen said he believes a safe initial withdrawal rate is 4.4%. Yes, that’s an increase from his initial findings in his 1994 paper.

In his 1994 paper, he assumed retirees invested in the S&P 500 and intermediate Treasury bonds. That’s it. Since then he expanded the asset classes to include mid-cap, small-cap, micro-cap and international stocks. This diversification caused him to increase the safe withdrawal rate from 4% to 4.7%. Because of the unprecedented conditions noted above, however, new retirees might want to start at 4.4%, he said.

As far as I can tell, the 4.4% rate is not based on data. Still, it represents a 10% increase, not decrease, from his initial 4% rule. That doesn’t sound so bad.

“The combination of 8.5% inflation with high stock and bond market valuations make it difficult to forecast whether the standard playbook will work for recent retirees,” said Bengen. He’s even gone so far as put 70% of his personal portfolio in cash. When the father of the 4% rule cashes out, shouldn’t we?

I don’t think so. For starters, it’s important to understand how Bengen developed the 4% Rule. He examined 50-year retirement periods dating back to 1926. For each, he identified the highest withdrawal rate one could take in the first year of retirement, adjusted for inflation in subsequent years, without running out of money for at least 30 years.

As you might imagine, every year had a different initial withdrawal rate. Some years the starting rate was twice what it was in others. Here’s the key point. He didn’t average all of these initial withdrawal rates to come up with the 4% rule. He took the absolute worst year—1968.

Here’s more on how the 4% Rule works.

What does this mean? It means the 4% Rule has survived the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the inflation of the 1970s and early 1908s, the 1987 market crash, 9/11, the Great Recession and Covid-19.

Stock Prices

No matter how difficult past times have been, current conditions feel awful in ways that history never can. One need look no further than Robert Shiller’s CAPE (cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio) of the S&P 500 to raise concerns. It stands at roughly twice its average and at historic highs. It’s only been higher once, and that was during the tech bubble.

Yet as “unprecedented” as this may seem, it’s not for two reasons. First, most portfolios don’t have the same PE as the S&P 500, even if measured using CAPE. Add in mid-cap, small-cap and international stocks, and the PE comes down significantly.

Second, and more important, the CAPE of the S&P 500 would fall to average with a 50% decline in the S&P 500. This wouldn’t be fun, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented, either.

As noted above, the market lost 90% to kick off the Great Depression. And going back to the tech bubble, the market lost 9%, 12% and 22% from 2000 to 2002. That’s not quite a 50% total loss, but close. And from peak to trough during the Great Recession (2007-2009), the market lost more than 50%. The 4% Rule survived like a cockroach.

Bond Prices and Inflation

Bond yields were at historic lows. I say “were” because that’s no longer the case. The roughly 3% yield on the 10-year Treasury is still below average, but there are plenty of years dating back to the 1800s when they were lower. And when Bengen published his 1994 paper, TIPS were three years away and the first I bond was still four years away. So at least now we can keep up with inflation.

Here’s the key. The 4% Rule has survived Treasury yields as low as 1 to 2%. It also survived inflation of more than 13% and a decade of inflation at 6% or higher. And like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going and going (or ticking for you Timex fans).

Final Thoughts

Some year might come along that is worse than 1968 for new retirees. Maybe 2022 will turn out to be a worse time to retiree since the late 60s. Perhaps in 30 years we’ll know that for 2022, the initial safe withdrawal rate was 4.2% instead of 4.4%.

But can we really predict that based on current conditions, when the 4% rule has survived much worse? I don’t think so.

Rob is a Contributing Editor for Forbes Advisor, host of the Financial Freedom Show, and the author of Retire Before Mom and Dad–The Simple Numbers Behind a Lifetime of

Source: Will Inflation And The Stock Market Conspire To Kill The 4% Rule?

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How Much Liquidity Does Your Portfolio Need During Ages 30, 40, 50, 60+

The global market’s volatility and increasing inflation is likely a cause for concern as you manage your portfolio.  With these challenges, it’s advisable to incorporate liquidity into your planning.

Liquidity is described as the amount of cash you can readily access, or how quickly you can convert assets to cash. The need for liquidity can vary depending on your age and risk tolerance, and short and long term financial goals. We’ve asked financial experts for their advice about how to plan your liquidity strategy as you age.

Liquid emergency savings for unforeseen life events

According to financial experts, you should have about six months of liquid living expenses set aside in an emergency fund, if you encounter a job loss, experience a medical emergency or have a sudden expense like a car repair.

“At any age we recommend an emergency fund in cash or cash investments to cover roughly six-month expenditures.”

“At any age we recommend an emergency fund in cash or cash investments to cover roughly six-month expenditures,” says Rob Williams, CFP®, CRPC®, managing director, financial planning, retirement income and wealth management, Schwab Center for Financial Research. “They can cover a one-time surprise expense or tide you over if you have an illness, change jobs, or have another expense, to help avoid the need to sell investments.”

How your age factors in on your liquidity path

According to Williams, investors aged 30 to their early 60s and still working and who do not need money from their portfolio soon could start with around 5% of their portfolio in cash and cash investments, based on the time horizon and risk tolerance.

And, for investors nearing retirement, when they may need to start tapping their portfolio, or another goal, such as paying for a child’s education, may want to hold a higher proportion in cash and cash investments in their portfolio, Williams says.

“We suggest, generally, that investors hold the next year of money that they may need to withdraw from a portfolio, to pay for a goal or expense in cash or cash investments.”

“We suggest, generally, that investors hold the next year of money they may need to withdraw from a portfolio, to pay for a goal or expense, in cash or cash investments,” Williams explains. “This is a good guideline, to determine how much you might want to hold based not just on your age, but your goals as well.”

How goals can influence your decade-by-decade liquidity decisions

John Pilkington, CFP, senior financial advisor with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, also recommends setting aside 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund, and, given an individual’s or couple’s lifestyle and financial goals, he advises to consider how liquid reserves fit into a broader financial plan.

“For example, if someone is in their early 40s and is planning a significant purchase, such as a vacation property, in the near future, they will have significantly higher liquidity needs than someone of the same age who is only saving for longer term goals,” he says.

Other factors that can impact your need for liquidity could be financing a child’s education or creating a retirement plan.

“Typically, those in their 30s and 40s have competing financial goals – think paying down a mortgage, student loans, saving for children’s future college expenses, saving for retirement – and therefore have a higher need for liquidity should they need to tap funds amid planning other financial obligations,” Pilkington says.

As he mentioned,  a challenge that many in these 30s to 40s decades face is the ability to create liquid reserves, as their competing goals are co-existing among higher debt burdens.

“This audience can benefit from looking at alternative sources of liquidity – such as a home equity line of credit, tapping a Roth IRA, or a personal loan,” adds Pilkington.

Source: How much liquidity does your portfolio need during ages 30, 40, 50, 60+ ? | Fox Business

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Critics:

Liquidity becomes even more critical to consider in the context of an investor’s financial goals. For most, goals can be described most simply as certain amounts of money needed at particular points in time. However, when the time comes, investors will likely need to fund their goals in the form of cash, rather than in the form of financial securities or art.

Of course, exceptions exist for example, a charitable donation of stock or repurposing a piece of real estate investment property to serve as a retirement home. Your financial advisor has the tools and resources to incorporate your financial goals into your long-term plan. To illustrate this, consider a goal of funding a child’s university education. For most, this involves multiple payments of cash over the course of a few years at some point in the future.

When the tuition due-date nears, the portfolio of securities would likely need to become less risky, more stable, more liquid, and more accessible in order to ensure the tuition payment clears. The graph below depicts a hypothetical example of how the cash required over the child’s age increases as he approaches his college education years – requiring strategic planning for liquidity needs.

Especially in the case of relatively large financial goals such as funding higher-education, the chances that your goals become a reality can be improved by starting early, having a long-term focus, and putting a plan in place with your financial advisor.

More contents:

Liquidity – Dictionary Definition of Liquidity”. About.com Education. Archived from the original on 17 April 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2015.

Keynes, John Maynard. A Treatise on Money. Vol. 2. p. 67.

TradeLive”. TradeLive.in. Archived from the original on 26 December 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2015.

The Performance of Liquidity in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis” (PDF). New Political Economy. 15 (1): 71-89. doi:10.1080/13563460903553624. S2CID 153899413.

Mifid ushers in a new era of trading”. Financial Times. Retrieved 27 May 2015.

Understanding Financial Liquidity”. Investopedia.com. Investopedia US. Archived from the original on 3 May 2018. Retrieved 11 August 2014.

Why Stocks Are Rising: It’s The Liquidity, Stupid!”. Yahoo Finance. Archived from the original on 1 June 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2014.

Liquidity: Finance in motion or evaporation”, lecture by Michael Mainelli at Gresham College, 5 September 2007 (available for download as an audio or video file, as well as a text file)

The role of time-critical liquidity in financial markets by David Marshall and Robert Steigerwald (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago)

Financial market utilities and the challenge of just-in-time liquidity

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Should I Cash Out of Mutual Funds to Pay Off Debt?

If you have some money invested in mutual funds, using them to pay off debt may seem like an attractive option. You may assume that you’ll get more benefit from using the money that you’ve invested to eliminate debt (and the associated high interest rates). But cashing in your mutual funds may not be the best way to become debt-free if there are other options available. And depending on where you hold your mutual funds, you could end up receiving a steep tax bill.

Key Takeaways

  • Cashing out mutual funds may not be the best option for repaying debt.
  • You may owe capital gains tax on mutual funds that you cash out from a taxable brokerage account.
  • Cashing out mutual funds from an IRA or other qualified retirement account could trigger income tax on earnings, as well as an early withdrawal tax penalty.
  • Withdrawing money from your investments to pay debt means missing out on future growth from compounding interest.

Pros and Cons of Cashing Out Mutual Funds to Pay Off Debt

Using mutual funds to pay off debt may seem appealing at first glance. If you aren’t using the money that you’ve invested for any particular financial goal, then why not use it to pay off credit cards, student loans, or other debts? After all, eliminating debt can free up more money in your budget that you can then reinvest in mutual funds, stocks, or other securities.However, there are some problems with that logic.

Specifically, there are two major drawbacks associated with cashing out mutual funds to pay down debt. The first is taxes; the second is how it may negatively impact your long-term financial goals.In terms of tax implications, there are two ways that cashing out mutual funds to pay debt can backfire, depending on where you hold them. If you have mutual funds in a taxable brokerage account, then cashing them out may trigger capital gains tax if you’re selling them above what you initially paid for them.

Short-term capital gains on securities owned for less than one year are subject to ordinary income tax rates.1 The long-term capital gains tax rate is 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your income.

If the mutual funds are in an IRA, you may pay ordinary income tax on the entire withdrawal, the exception would be if you had any basis in your IRA. Then a 10% penalty may apply. The rules are slightly different for Roth IRAs, especially when it comes to taxes.

Aside from the tax consequences of using mutual funds to pay down debt, it’s also important to consider how it may impact your ability to grow wealth. By selling off mutual funds and not replacing them with other investments, you miss out on the power of compounding interest. Depending on how much of your mutual fund holdings you choose to sell, that could mean losing thousands of dollars in growth over time.

If you’re considering cashing out mutual funds in a brokerage account, use an online capital gains tax calculator to estimate how much you may owe on the sale.

Other Options for Paying Off Debt

Cashing out mutual funds isn’t the only way to manage debt. There are other possibilities for eliminating debt faster while also saving money on interest, including:

  • Refinancing student loans, personal loans, or other loans at a lower interest rate
  • Consolidating credit card debts into a single personal loan
  • Taking advantage of 0% credit card balance transfer offers
  • Using a home equity loan to consolidate debts
  • Selling vehicles or other non-investment assets that you own and applying the proceeds to your debt balances

If you’re struggling with debt repayment, then you may consider other options, such as a debt management plan or debt settlement. With a debt management plan, you work with a certified credit counselor to create a plan for paying off what’s owed. This may include reducing interest rates or fees. You make a single payment to the credit counselor, who then distributes the funds among your creditors.

Debt settlement is something that you may consider for past-due debts. This involves working with a consumer debt specialist to negotiate debts with creditors. The goal is to pay off debts for less than what’s owed to avoid filing for bankruptcy as a last resort.

Debt management and debt settlement may have potentially negative impacts to your credit score, so it’s important to weigh these options carefully.

Making an Informed Decision

If you’re considering selling mutual funds to pay off debt, it’s important to do your research beforehand. Your broker or financial advisor can provide you with the expected rate of return for a mutual fund going forward. Compare this rate to the fund’s historical performance to ensure its accuracy. If the mutual funds pay dividends, then this amount should be included in the assessment. If funds are held within a retirement account, find out the fees and penalties for cashing out.

Again, cashing out of a traditional IRA before age 59½ results in a 10%, or 25% if you have a SIMPLE IRA, tax penalty. There are exceptions for withdrawals, such as disability, medical debt, certain educational expenses, and buying a home. Mutual funds held within regular brokerage accounts have the standard commission charges, but the fund itself still may charge a fee for redeeming your shares. Brokers and financial advisors are great resources for this information.

The interest rate on your debt and the length of the loan should provide the last pieces of evidence to make an informed decision. Debts such as credit cards and short-term loans typically have higher interest rates than longer-term debts such as vehicle loans or mortgages. For mortgages, check to make sure that you have a fixed interest rate. Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) can keep increasing over time and lead to payments that might balloon above your ability to repay them.

Note

A 401(k) loan also is an option for repaying debt, but if you separate from your job before the loan is repaid, then the entire amount could be treated as a taxable distribution.

The Bottom Line

While becoming debt-free may be relief, there are some downsides to consider if you’re using mutual funds to achieve that goal. Fees and penalties are red flags when thinking about cashing in your mutual funds. Loss of future investment income and the lack of a retirement account can put you in a worse situation later in life.

You can make additional debt payments using current income to shorten the length of the loan and reduce the total amount of interest that you have to pay, assuming your budget allows it. If you’re truly struggling with how to repay debt, then consider reaching out to debt relief companies to see how they may be able to help.

When researching debt relief companies, be sure to get a clear explanation of the services that they offer and the fees that you might have to pay before signing a contract for services.

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By: Nathan Buehler

Nathan Buehler is a well-established writer on the VIX and its related exchange traded products. Nathan also provides coverage on publicly traded companies, commodities, and personal finance/budgeting. Not only is Nathan a writer, but he is also a teacher. His drive to help others doesn’t end in the classroom. This is evident by the time and commitment he gives to his readers through personal feedback and open discussion of topics. He has written articles on topics such as economics, investing, and finance.

Source: Should I Cash Out of Mutual Funds to Pay Off Debt?

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What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

Whew! The pandemic had a smaller impact on the Social Security trust funds — that is, Social Security’s solvency — than many feared during the depths of the pandemic downturn.

According to the new 2021 annual report from the Social Security Trustees, the depletion date for the combined trust funds —retirement and disability — is 2033 without any changes to program benefits. That would be when today’s 54-year-olds reach Social Security’s Full Retirement Age. Still, that’s one year earlier than last year’s 2034 estimate.

Depletion date or insolvency doesn’t mean bankruptcy — far from it. Funding from payroll tax receipts will be enough to pay 78% of promised benefits after the combined Social Security trust funds depletion date is reached.

“The trust fund report should be seen as a strength,” says Eric Kingson, professor of social work and public administration at Syracuse University and co-author with Nancy Altman of “Social Security Works for Everyone: Protecting and Expanding the Insurance Americans Love and Count On.”

What the Social Security Trustees Said

The report, Kingson said, “provides information for Congress and the public on what needs to be done to maintain benefits.”

And Altman, president of Social Security Works, chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition and a rumored possible Biden appointee to run the Social Security Administration, said this when the Trustees report came out on Wednesday: “Today’s report shows that Social Security remains strong and continues to work well, despite a once-in-a-century pandemic. That this year’s projections are so similar to last year’s proves once again that our Social Security system is built to withstand times of crisis, providing a source of certainty in uncertain times.”

But the Social Security Trustees are strikingly cautious about their estimates involving the impact of the pandemic on the Social Security trust fund and its sister trust fund for Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for people 65 and older.

Despite the dry language of actuaries, the uncertainty is apparent.

Employment, earnings, interest rates and gross domestic product (GDP) dropped substantially in the second quarter of 2020, the worst economic period of the pandemic. As a result, the decline in payroll-tax receipts which pay for Social Security benefits eroded the trust funds, though the drop in payroll taxes was offset somewhat by higher mortality rates.

“Given the unprecedented level of uncertainty, the Trustees currently assume that the pandemic will have no net effect on the individual long range ultimate assumptions,” they write.

The Pandemic and Social Security Solvency

But, they add, “At this time, there is no consensus on what the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the long-term experience might be, if any.”

The Trustees say they “will continue to monitor developments and modify the projections in later reports.”

Translation: the status quo remains and the forecast for the pandemic’s effect on Social Security’s solvency is cloudy.

Odds are the coming Social Security financing shortfall won’t get sustained attention from either the Biden administration or Congress despite the need to take action before 2034.

The Trustees aren’t too happy about that.

Their report says: “The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them. Implementing changes sooner rather than later would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits… With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action, Social Security can continue to protect future generations.”

The Political Outlook for Social Security Reforms

But the Biden administration and its Congressional allies are instead focused on threading the political needle for an ambitious $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending package, while also dealing with the fallout from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Leading Republican legislators have called for so-called entitlement reform (think Social Security benefit cuts), but that’s a tough sell in the current Democratically controlled Congress.

“Does the report mean the timetable argues for real concrete action on [addressing solvency issues of] Social Security? Probably not. Will it revive the rhetoric that the sky is falling? Sure,” says Robert Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition advocacy group, president of Matz Blancato and Associates and a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

The issue over how best to restore financial solvency to Social Security isn’t going away. That’s because the program is fundamental to the economic security of retired Americans. Social Security currently pays benefits to 49 million retired workers and dependents of retired workers (as well as survivor benefits to six million younger people and 10 million disabled people).

However, the tenor of the longer-term solvency discussion has significantly changed in recent years.

To be sure, a number of leading Republicans still want to cut Social Security retirement benefits to reduce the impending shortfall. Their latest maneuver is what’s known as The TRUST Act, sponsored by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

It calls for closed-door meetings of congressionally appointed bipartisan committees to come up with legislation to restore solvency by June 1 of the following year. The TRUST act would also limit Congress to voting yes or no on the proposals. No amendments allowed.

What’s Different About Future Social Security Changes

AARP, responding to the Trustees report news, came out vehemently against The TRUST Act’s closed-door reform plan. “All members of Congress should be held accountable for any action on Social Security and Medicare,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said.

“The concern seems to be they would look to cuts first, versus a more comprehensive approach,” says Blancato. A more comprehensive approach could include tax increases for the wealthy and technical changes to the Social Security system.

Something else that’s different is that liberals are no longer trying to simply stave off benefit cuts and preserve the program exactly as it is — the main tactic since Republican Newt Gingrich was House Majority Leader in the mid-1990s. That have bigger and bolder ideas.

Most Democratic members of Congress have co-sponsored legislation to expand Social Security or voted in support of incremental increases in benefits, such as providing more for the oldest old and a new minimum Social Security benefit equal to at least 125% of the poverty level (that translates to $16,100 for a household of one).

Addressing Social Security’s shortfall and paying for the new benefits, with the Democrats’ plans, would come from tax hikes, ranging from gradually raising the 6.2% payroll tax rate to hiking or eliminating the $142,800 limit on annual earnings subject to Social Security taxes to some combination of these.

But Social Security benefit cuts are off the negotiating table for the Democrats.

“Biden has made a commitment not to cut and to make modest improvements in benefits,” says Kingson. “He won’t back off that.”

The President has pushed for raising the Social Security payroll tax cap so people earning incomes over $400,000 would owe taxes on that money, too. He has also backed raising the minimum Social Security benefit to 125% of the poverty level.

The Good News for Social Security Beneficiaries

One more piece of Social Security news to keep in mind: Social Security recipients are likely to get a sizable cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their benefits in 2022. The exact amount will be announced in October and estimates vary widely, from 3% to as high as 6%. A 6% increase would be the highest in 40 years.

But there’s a catch: Medicare Part B premiums for physician and outpatient services — a significant portion of Medicare’s funding —will also go up due to inflation. And those premium payments usually come right out of monthly Social Security checks.

The Trustees report says the estimated standard monthly Medicare Part B premium in 2022 will be $158.50, up about 7% from $148.50 in 2021 and a 9.6% total increase since 2020. (Monthly premiums are based on income, though, and can exceed $500 for high earners.)

The Trustees report says Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund (HITF) has enough funds to pay scheduled benefits until 2026, unchanged from last year. Medicare’s finances stayed stable during the pandemic, with people over 65 largely avoiding elective care. The pandemic “is not expected to have a large effect on the financial status of the [Medicare] trust funds after 2024,” the Trustees report noted.

Like Social Security, the trust fund behind Medicare Part A (which pays for hospitals, nursing facilities, home health and hospice care) is primarily funded by payroll taxes. There will be enough tax income coming in to cover an estimated 91% of total scheduled benefits once the trust fund is insolvent.

Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, is mostly funded by federal income taxes, premiums and state payments.

But the political story about Medicare is less about its projected 2026 shortfall and more about momentum toward expanding the program. The Biden administration has proposed adding hearing, visual and dental care to Medicare benefits, something also being pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) At this time, it’s unclear how those new benefits would be paid for, though they wouldn’t affect the trust fund.

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Source: What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

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