The 4% rule during retirement

Retirement Calendar

The cover story in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning was on the “4% Rule.” This rule of thumb for a safe retirement withdrawal rate was first suggested by financial planner Bill Bengen in his article “Determining Withdrawal Rates Using Historical Data,” published 20 years ago in October, 1994. Bengen, who received his degree from MIT in aeronautics and astronautics prior to becoming a CFP®, studied rolling 30-year periods of market data to answer the question: “What is a sustainable and safe withdrawal rate in retirement?” His research led him to this conclusion:  Retirees could withdraw 4% from their portfolio in the first year of retirement, then in each subsequent year adjust that amount by the inflation rate, and continue this successfully over a lifetime.

For most people as they approach retirement or live in retirement, Bengen’s question is the exact right question to ask. We want to know what we can plan on spending in retirement without jeopardizing the future.  Now that it is 20 years later, does Bengen’s 4% rule still hold?

There are articles in the financial planning industry that say the 4% rule is dead.  Some disagree.  I would say that the rule is a great place to start our thinking, but there are limitations in the original construct that are being accounted for in the new research today.  For example, the 4% rule assumed specifically a 30 year retirement.  For those in their 50s and 60s, does it make sense to plan for 30 years? Or 40 years?  CFP® Wade Pfau asks the question, “Does it really make sense to lower one’s spending now, because you are specifically planning to spend just as much when you are 105 as when you are 65, despite the less than 1% chance of living to 105?”* Or might we want to have a dynamic approach that accounts for increasing longevity, as the IRA Required Minimum Distribution tables do?

Another limitation in the rule is that it results in a constant, inflation-adjusted dollar amount for withdrawal. If the portfolio experiences a bad year or two in market returns, the amount withdrawn from a diminished portfolio may well be a higher percentage of the portfolio than expected.  It may not make sense in the long run to plan for a constant withdrawal amount from a portfolio that is dynamic in results. Might we want to utilize a more flexible withdrawal percentage in our planning to further insulate the portfolio?

Bill Bengen’s question is a great question, and his 4% rule is a great starting point to a thoughtful, educated conversation on the topic.  Additional research is being conducted and published, and as it sheds light on the topic, we will continue to bring it to your attention.

Remembering former CTC president, Chuck Walles (1938-2014)

The following was written by Patty Conrad, retired corporate secretary of Covenant Trust Company.

Charles A WallesWhen President Emeritus Chuck (“Only my mother used to call me Charles.”) Walles joined Covenant Estate Planning Services/Covenant Trust Company in 1991, he brought his entrepreneurial business leadership and experience of service in the United States Coast Guard to his new ministry. He first served as estate planning officer for mid-America and then was named director of Estate Planning Services and vice president for marketing of Covenant Trust Company in 1995.

Chuck loved the work. He faced the tough issues without flinching, based on a firm faith that God would show him the right way. He was never afraid to stand up and be heard. If something needed to be said, Chuck was the one to say it.

When he took over as Executive Director/President in September 2001, the first task he gave me was to copy and distribute copies of “The Rules of This House” to every staff member. The first two rules read like this: “We obey God. We love, honor, and pray for one another.”

Chuck’s service in the United States Coast Guard permeated the rest of his life. He didn’t hear General Douglas MacArthur’s speech at West Point: “Duty, Honor, Country — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be,” but he lived the truth of those words. He was a patriot who loved this country deeply. Chuck’s integrity was unquestioned. He led by example in always trying to do what was right. He would often tell us: “Everything has to pass the smell test! If you have to ask if it’s the right thing to do, it probably isn’t. Do the right thing.”

Chuck believed in putting family first. But to him, this meant not only his own family, but the CEPS/CTC family as well. That included not only staff, but clients. These were Chuck’s “people” and he dedicated his life and energy to looking after them. He understood family obligations, but always in the context of duty to other responsibilities as well.

Passion was not a quality lacking in Chuck Walles. His decision to join Covenant Trust Company had a significant impact on not only his own life, but on his many clients and ministries throughout the Covenant. During his time with us, Chuck touched many lives and many hearts—we will not soon forget him.

We are a better company and better people for having known and worked with Chuck. Peace to his memory.

After a long period of calm, volatility may be back

Volatility Chart

Since the beginning of October concerns about signs of weaker growth abroad have outweighed positive US corporate earnings reports and global stock market volatility has gone extreme. The Dow Jones Industrials saw triple-digit swings several days in a row that wiped out all of the index’s year-to-date gains. This volatility sent investors once again seeking the relative security of U.S. Treasuries. As the price of the benchmark 10-year note has risen, the decline in its yield has accelerated in each of the last four weeks; the 10-year yield briefly dipped below 2% and is now around 2.14%. While the US equity markets have changed direction dramatically just since the beginning of the month, there is still reason to be optimistic.

Jobless claims decreased by 23,000 to 264,000 in the week ended Oct. 11, the fewest since April 2000. “This is a little bit heartening to remind everybody that the U.S. economy so far seems to be doing pretty well,” said Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut.

Grounds for optimism also include the lowest unemployment rate in six years, a deleveraging of debt by companies and households and the likelihood of cheaper energy and low bond yields will support consumer spending and business investment.

“Things aren’t looking bad enough in the rest of the world to drag the U.S.,” said Peter Hooper, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank AG and a former Fed official. “I wouldn’t say the world’s falling apart by any means.”

Covenant Trust believes that this current period of price volatility is not unexpected and while it makes for dramatic headlines — it is certainly not a reason to be getting out of the markets. Staying invested for the long term is the right course.

Covenant Trust Company Investment Department

Four simple ways to save

Jean Chatzky has four simple ways to help you save. Click on the image to see Chatzky’s article at

Jean Chatzky (financial editor for the “Today” show) thinks saving money is simple. At least theoretically. And theoretically, I agree. It’s like losing weight: if you want to drop a few pounds, you must burn more calories than you consume. Similarly, to save money, you need to make more money than you spend.

However, we all know that the reality of saving money is much more difficult. There are a variety of hurdles we may have to contend with: low income, emergencies, bad habits, a lack of self control, etc. But while these hindrances can complicate our financial situation, we need to remember that saving money is inherently simple. If we see saving as complicated, our methods for saving may become overly complex, difficult to maintain over a long period of time, and ultimately discouraging and ineffective.

Chatzky offers four ideas to help you save. Again, these may not be easy to do, but they are simple.  Continue reading

CTC tips: calculating debt

Calculating Debt

According to Nerd Wallet, the national average credit card debt is $15,607; the average mortgage debt is $153,500; and the average student loan debt is $32,656. Even if your debt isn’t as high as these averages, it can still wreak havoc on your finances.

Perhaps your debt payments are affordable. However, that doesn’t mean you’re in a financially healthy situation. Calculating your debt-to-income ratio (DTIR) can help you determine if you’re taking on too much debt. Your debt-to-income ratio is the percentage of your gross income that is tied up in debt. To calculate it, divide your monthly debt payments (mortgage/rent, student loan, credit card bills, etc.) by your monthly gross income and multiply it by 100 to get your DTIR as a percentage. So, if your monthly debt payment is $1,500 and your monthly gross income is $3,000, your debt-to-income ratio is 50% ($1,500/$3,000 x 100 = 50). Generally, anything over 36% is considered risky: a high DTIR will impair your ability to save and make it difficult to recover from a financial emergency.

Regardless of whether or not your DTIR is above 36%, total freedom from debt should be a financial goal. To start, make a list of all of your debt: their balances, interest rates, monthly payments, and due dates. Calculate how long it will take you to pay off your debts, and how much you will have paid in interest (you can find helpful calculators like this one online). Also note your annual and monthly income.

Making this list might seem like a small act, but it’s important to fully grasp the totality of your debt. Your debt can seem much more affordable when you’re only looking at your monthly payments; seeing the total numbers, especially compared to your annual and monthly income, can help you realize how big of a problem your debt is.