The 4% Rule is 100% Safe

By Josh, February 28, 2018

If you’ve stumbled across my site and haven’t heard of the Trinity Study and the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate, go ahead and click over to Google to read about it. I’ll wait…

For the rest of you, we’ve all heard about the 4% rule as a safe withdrawal rate in retirement. Something like 97% of portfolio balances end up being positive after any scenario of stock/bond performances in the past 100+ years when using a 4% withdrawal rate. Close enough for me, I’d consider it 100% safe, because I love rounding. 🙂

So why do I think the 4% rule is safer than you might think? First, it assumes that you will never make another dollar of earned income for the rest of your life. It’s like saying that you retire one day and spend the next 3-4 decades sitting in a rocking chair, sipping lemonade, and reminiscing about days gone by. I don’t know about you, but when I think about retirement, I think about spending more time on hobbies I enjoy, possibly teaching some classes, and/or spending my time with other creative endeavors. Some of these things will be volunteer, while others might earn me some kind of paycheck or royalty (if I write a book or something?) I might start buying items on the cheap at local garage sales and then selling them for more money online. The possibilities are endless when you aren’t chained to a desk chair for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year!

Another reason the 4% rule is 100% safe is that you don’t just withdraw 4% on January 1st and hope that remaining 96% grows back to its 100% self again throughout the year. For example, and for simplicity’s sake, on January 1 you withdraw 0.33% (1/12th of 4%) to live on for the month of January. February 1 you do the same thing, and so on. The beauty of this is that 99.67% is still in your account after January 1, which is 3.67% higher than if you withdrew 4% of your account balance all at once. The money only makes money when it is still in your account!

Reason #3 is that you don’t have to ALWAYS withdraw 4% each year. Maybe you don’t have any big travel plans this year, you don’t need a new roof on your house, and you don’t need a new car this year. With a paid-off house and no travel expenses, it may be possible to comfortably live on 2-3% for a given year.

The fourth reason that 4% safe withdrawal rate is 100% safe is that it does not factor in any Social Security or Medicare coverage. Some of your basic living expenses and a chunk of health care costs are covered by the Federal Government, even in the bleakest of scenarios for those 2 major programs. You can log onto SSA.gov to see your anticipated Social Security earnings at each given retirement age (62-70) and factor that money into your calculations for how much you need to withdraw to meet your minimum obligations. It is likely that you will need far less than you think you need to withdraw in retirement.

And the final reason is that your living expenses may Decrease, not Increase, as you age. As a newly-minted retiree, most people want to spend on lavish vacations, maybe buy expensive toys (collector car?) or tools for a new hobby (gardening?). But do you have the same energy at 85 as you do at 62? Of course not. By 85, if you still have good health, you may not want to travel the world any longer, or drive fancy cars, and you lost the energy to do manual work like gardening. If any or all of those are the case, it may be possible to live on less than 4% in some of your golden years.

 

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