Four Percent Rule

A percentage benchmark that is recommended for retirees to withdraw from their retirement portfolio

What is the Four Percent Rule?

The Four Percent Rule is known as the percentage amount a retiree should withdraw from their retirement account per year. It is meant to be a benchmark that provides individuals with a steady set stream of income while allowing the invested balance to continue to grow throughout retirement.


Four Percent Rule


Understanding the Four Percent Rule

The four percent rule provides a guideline for financial planners in setting a portfolio’s withdrawal rate for their clients. A key driver in determining the rate is one’s life expectancy. The longer they expect to live as retirees, the longer, they will require their portfolio to support their lifestyle. A four percent withdrawal rate is a well tested number, even while factoring in increasing medical expenses in the final stages of life.


What are Financial Planners?

A financial planner is an investment professional that helps individuals and corporations meet their long-term financial goals by building a portfolio that meets their risk tolerance and objectives.

Financial planners need to secure one or more professional designations – such as the CFP (Certified Financial Planner). They must also undergo appropriate training and possess the right experience to serve clients and achieve their trust while helping to make sound financial recommendations.

Financial planners are legally obligated to act in the client’s best interests and cannot personally benefit from the management of their portfolio. They must manage the clients’ assets with no concern for their own benefit.

There are various ways financial planners can make money. For example, they can earn commissions, which are payments from companies whose financial instruments are bought. Also, financial planners can earn money by opening accounts for new clients.


How the Four Percent Rule was Created

The four percent rule stems from historical data on stock and bond returns over the span of 50 years, between the periods of 1926-1976. Before the 1990s, many individuals believed that 5% was the appropriate benchmark value that retirees should’ve withdrawn each year.

However, through trials and experience, many began to wonder whether 5% was too high. It led to William Bengen, a financial advisor, to conduct an extensive analysis of historical returns in 1994. His research included data from severe recessions or economic downfalls between the periods of 1930-1970.

After many stress tests, Bengen concluded that even during economic depressions, a 4% withdrawal would not exhaust a retirement portfolio for over 30 years.


How Inflation Affects the Four Percent Rule

In light of inflation, many retirees increase their withdrawal rate to continue to adapt to stimulated economic conditions. By doing so, individuals can effectively match their income to cost-of-living changes.


When the Four Percent Rule Becomes Ineffective

The following are scenarios of when the four percent rule is not effective for retirees:

  • During a severe market downturn or inflationary period.
  • The temptation to splurge on major purchases. A retiree must remain diligent and loyal to their payouts for the four percent rule to work. Irresponsible spending can lead to many poor outcomes in the future. When the principal value decreases too quickly, the compound interest received on the balance also decreases. Thereby leaving a smaller amount to sustain a retiree’s planned lifestyle.


A Perspective on the Four Percent Rule

American financial planner Michael Kitces discovered that the four percent rule might be considered slightly conservative. He states that the rule was catered to the worst economic conditions, particularly in 1929, even faring well during the two most recent financial crises. In fact, Kitces mentions that a 4% withdrawal rate may even lead to a large sum of money left over.

Nonetheless, safety is a critical aspect for retirees, especially regarding their financial situation.


More Resources

CFI offers the Commercial Banking & Credit Analyst (CBCA)™ certification program for those looking to take their careers to the next level. To keep learning and advancing your career, the following resources will be helpful:

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