The 4% rule has long provided a conservative strategy for determining an appropriate withdrawal rate from retirement savings accounts, but changing times and increased market volatility have clients wondering—is there a better way?
Many of your clients may be following the 4% rule because it is simple and makes it very unlikely that the client will run out of money. Unfortunately, it can also be unnecessarily rigid by failing to take investment performance and fluctuations in consumption levels into account—leaving your clients looking for a better alternative. A new study suggests that the IRS required minimum distribution method is likely to outperform the traditional 4% method and may provide the solution your clients have been waiting for.
The RMD Rules
The IRS required minimum distribution (RMD) rules essentially require that your clients begin withdrawing funds from tax-deferred retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, when they reach age 70½. The minimum amounts that must be withdrawn are calculated based on the client’s life expectancy, determined using IRS actuarial data.
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The IRS provides tables specifying the percentage of current account assets that must be withdrawn each year based on the life expectancy of the client in any given year after reaching age 70½ (tables are also available for clients beginning withdrawals at younger ages). In the case of a married couple where one spouse is more than 10 years younger than the other, the joint life expectancy of the couple is used in the calculation to provide a more realistic estimate of the life expectancy.
The RMD requirements are not meant to provide retirees with guidance on the optimal withdrawal rate, but are meant to ensure that the funds in these tax-deferred accounts are used for retirement income, rather than as estate planning vehicles. Because the requirements seek to ensure that the assets are spent during life, they are a viable alternative to the 4% withdrawal rate, even though this was not the original IRS intent in formulating the rules.
The RMD Method versus the 4 Percent Rule
As the name suggests, under the 4% rule your client withdraws 4% of the beginning balance of his retirement savings each year during retirement. While the rule is very simple, it can have unintended consequences. For example, the rigid 4%-per-year requirement tends to encourage clients to seek out dividend-heavy investments to supplement their otherwise fixed income, regardless of whether those investments are otherwise appropriate.