Financial advice tends to focus on financial assets, and more specifically how those assets are allocated. However, other levers may be more important for most households, according to a new paper from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
“Financial planning tools frequently highlight the asset allocation decision, suggesting that individuals have a lot to gain by adopting a more optimal allocation of stocks and bonds,” write Alicia Munnell, Natalia Sergeyevna Orlova and Anthony Webb. “In contrast, they are often silent on the benefits of other options, such as delaying retirement, controlling spending, or taking out a reverse mortgage.”
The typical 401(k)/IRA balance of households approaching retirement is less than $100,000, something they call “striking,” which suggests that the net benefits of portfolio reallocation have to be modest for the typical household, although it is possible that higher income households have more to gain.
The report states that a simple Excel exercise aimed at determining the required saving rates for individuals with different starting ages, ending ages and asset returns showed that the difference between earning a real return of 2% instead of 6% could be offset by working five years longer.
“This finding suggests a minor role for asset allocation in creating a secure retirement,” it says.