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Retirement Planning > Spending in Retirement > Income Planning

Editorial Comment: Gotta Know Withdrawals Cold

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Shelly Kostrunek’s article, Retirement withdrawal mistakes to avoid, which appears in this month’s issue of Income Planning, focuses on a very important part of income planning: taking withdrawals.

Do read the article. And ponder her startling chart, which we also show here.

Numbers like those should send a chill through financial advisors everywhere. If consumers have the wrong mix of assets, they risk running out of money before age 100-and perhaps before they die. That chart assumes a 4% withdrawal rate. If the rate were higher, the risk would be greater.

Many income planning professionals have been sounding that alarm in recent years. Withdrawals taken, or not taken, are critical to achieving a comfortable retirement. But advisors really need to carry that message forward, if they are to help aging boomer clients make good income decisions.

The message is underscored by a finding from of a MetLife survey, which we also show in this issue of Income Planning. The survey found that, among U.S. near retirees, about 43% of near retirees believe they can withdraw 10% or more of their retirement savings each year while preserving their principal. Imagine that-10%! This is even though most experts in recent years recommend that retirees hold their withdrawal rate to 4% or less. (See a report on the survey here.)

Kostrunek is an advocate of incorporating immediate annuities into the asset mix. In her chart, she shows a 65-year-old man who takes out 4% a year for retirement income. As you can see, the man will probably do okay with a 50/50 asset mix (lifetime annuity to stock-bond portfolio). But if he has a 0/100 asset mix, he could run into in deep trouble-only a 70% chance that his money will last to age 100. Again, that’s at 4% withdrawal rate. His opportunities would dim if using the 10% withdrawal rate that MetLife’s survey says 43% of near retirees assume they can take.

The need to discuss this with clients is all the more important because life expectancies in the U.S. are still going up. As we report in this issue of Income Planning, the Centers for Disease control says overall U.S. life expectancy at birth rose to 78.1 years in 2006, up 0.3 years from the 2005 average. (See our article on this here and see the CDC’s report here.)

In short, clients need to continue planning for a long life. Choosing an appropriate asset mix and withdrawal rate will help facilitate that.

It’s heartening to see that a number of insurance and financial companies are offering tools to educate advisors about the income planning process. These include guidelines, software, websites and more. (We show some recent initiatives in this issue, but there are many more, both up-and-running and on-the-way.)

But advisors still need to do the work of learning. They need to use those tools, take courses, and otherwise prepare themselves to help customers make informed income decisions. That includes knowing withdrawals cold…and disabusing clients of harmful preconceived notions, without insulting them or minimizing their preferences.

That’s a huge challenge and responsibility. But if advisors do this while the market is still opening up, it’s also is a huge opportunity.


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