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This Web site contains a compilation of more than a thousand consumer finance  columns written by Tony Novak from the 1980s through 2006, updated and reformatted for maximum usefulness today.  New material was added after 2010.

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Outliving investments in retirement

originally posted: 11/22/2006  reposted: 2/18/2011 This post has not been recently reviewed or revised by the author and may be out of date. If you notice an error or are in doubt, please send a new question by email or ask for an update. Email

Q: The rule of thumb is that one can withdraw 4% of their nest egg each year. Is this in addition to the income that the nest egg generates? Say you make 5% income each year, does this mean a total of 9%? I have no heirs, so I do not care about preserving the principal -- my only concern is to make it last throughout my retirement years.

A: The real question you are asking is a mathematical equation with two unknown factors or variables: the number of years you will live and the return on investment in each of those years. The method used to answer a question like this is to make some assumptions based on past experience and then calculate the probabilities under each scenario. This is commonly referred to as "Monte Carlo analysis" because it calculates percentage probabilities of certain outcomes under a range of possible random variables. A personal financial analysis might conclude that the probability of you outliving your investment portfolio is less than 1% if you withdrawal 4% per year. But if you withdraw 9% per year the probability of your money expiring before you do rises to 45%. The numbers here are made up for purpose of addressing this question but any retirement planner can help you plug in the real values that pertain to you actual situation. It would be well worth the cost to spend a few hours with a financial adviser for this type of planning.


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