Does the 4% Rule Hold Up?

November 22, 2023

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One of the biggest challenges of planning for retirement is figuring out how much you can spend during your golden years. Retirement income planning requires careful preparation, and budgeting.

A popular retirement income planning guideline is the 4% rule, which suggests that you live off 4% of your total investments during the first year of retirement. Then, you readjust every year in retirement based on your changing needs and inflation.

But does this rule hold up? Is the 4% rule a good strategy for you as you plan for living in retirement? Let’s dive into this rule a little deeper and consider whether it’s right for you.

What Is the 4% Rule?

The 4% rule is a guideline for managing your retirement income and suggests only withdrawing up to 4% of your savings each year of retirement. For example, if you have $1,000,000 saved for retirement, you will withdraw $40,000 the first year.

The idea behind this rule is that it’s easy to calculate and provides a benchmark for how much you should spend in retirement. The goal of retirement income planning is to make your money last as long as you do, and the 4% rule is designed to help retirees do that.

Economists calculated 4% by considering both average returns on investments and potential market corrections. They also considered the average life expectancy of retirees. In 1990, when the rule was established, the average American man was expected to live 15 years after age 65, and the average woman just under 20 years. Using the 4% rule, retirees could expect to have about 35 years of living expenses.

So, the question remains: Does the famed 4% rule hold up today? Let’s take a look.

Does the 4% Rule Hold Up Today?

Because the 4% rule is so popular among economists, it’s fair to wonder whether or not it’s still relevant today. The short answer: maybe. Every retirement is different, so it’s impossible to have one “rule” that works for everyone. While the 4% rule offers good insight into retirement income planning, it’s more helpful to look at it as a guideline than a rule.1

Today’s retirees face so many factors that everyone can’t subscribe to a concrete “rule,” even if it is popular. When planning out your retirement income, some things to consider include your investments, expenses, health, longevity, and goals.

Your Investment Portfolio

According to Prudential, the 4% rule assumes that “you have about 60% of your investments in equities and 40% in fixed income assets,” and it’s based on a tax-deferred portfolio like a traditional IRA or 401(k) and “assumes that you’ll owe tax on withdrawals.” If you’re spending from a Roth, where withdrawals aren’t taxed if you meet essential criteria, “your calculations may be different.”2

Your Expenses

Everyone’s expenses will look a little different in retirement, depending on where you live, how much money you have saved for retirement, your health care expenses, your hobbies, and whether you work part-time.

Your Healthcare Expenses

It’s no surprise that healthcare costs have gotten more expensive since the 4% rule was established in the 1990s. Today, the average 65-year-old couple can expect to spend over $300,000 on doctor’s appointments and medical bills in retirement. Healthcare expenses are a significant part of your retirement income planning.3

Your Life Expectancy

In addition to having increased healthcare expenses, today’s retirees live longer than they did 30 years ago. The average life expectancy in 1990 was 75.19 years; in 2022, it was 79.05 years.4

As you can see, many factors go into your retirement income planning, and properly preparing for retirement requires much more consideration than just sticking to a blanket guideline like the 4% rule. Every retirement is going to look a bit different. The best way to understand where you are with retirement spending and expenses is to have a financial plan so you can monitor your situation real time and make any course corrections as needed.

  1. https://www.cnbc.com/select/what-is-the-4-percent-retirement-savings-rule/#
  2. https://www.prudential.com/financial-education/4-percent-rule-retirement
  3. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/16/americans-can-expect-to-pay-a-lot-more-for-medical-care-in-retirement.html
  4. https://www.ssa.gov/history/lifeexpect.html

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