Guided Path 1-1 Organizing Retirement

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This is the first episode in your Guided Path! Season 1 is all about income planning. Laura & Zacc cover how to start considering your retirement income. A few key highlights in this episode: The 4% rule is not what you think it is. Start with your income rather than starting with your expenses. Calculate fixed income first, then withdrawals.

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Intro: Welcome to The Financial Call. We are financial advisors on a mission to guide you through the financial planning everyone should have. Whether you're doing it yourself or working with a financial advisor, these episodes will help you break down complicated financial topics into practical, actionable steps. Our mission is to guide motivated people to become financially successful.  

Zacc: Welcome everybody, it has been a really long time since we've done much on The Financial Call. It has been more of what people have asked us to do. And part of that is Laura and I have spent a lot of time going through exactly what we want to show people and exactly how we want to help people. So you probably are aware of this but we've built a Guided Path.

There's an intro episode which we have yet to record, but we will record once we're done with the first section. What we think is important for you to know as you walk through this intro to financial planning. We're calling it the Guided Path. Laura, let's just review that really quick and make sure everyone understands what they're listening to and then we'll get into our first topic. So today's topic is Organizing Retirement Income. That is the first section within the Income Strategies or Income Planning. What do we want to call this? Like a module. Like a…it's a whole section. This is like a course.

Laura: A season of, you know, we have a bunch of episodes in the season.

Zacc: Much better, much better. You must be into this new Netflix type thing.

Laura: Yeah Netflix. Trying to relate it. 

Zacc: Perfect. Okay, so we have a season. And the season is Income Planning and then the episode is Organizing Retirement Income. The other episodes will be Social Security Basics, Pension Decisions, Retirement Income Risks, Withdrawal Strategies, and Income Planning for Investors Under 55. So these first five are going to be more for your transition or someone who's going into retirement or in retirement. And then the last one would be more for those who are younger and just trying to get to the right place. But if you are younger, if you listen to these first five you'll be way ahead and you'll know a lot more about retirement planning. Our goal is not to give you any type of…how do we say this? Like, there's no sales pitch here. This is literally just factual information and what we've learned from helping thousands of households with the financial planning process. In particular this season, which by the way I love that, is going to be income planning and today is the very beginning of that, Organizing Retirement Income. We will go back in the intro and give you more about the other seasons that are coming. But there's a lot. There's what? Eight seasons that we're going to go through with four or five, six episodes. And the idea is that you should be sufficiently informed to either be able to work with a financial advisor or maybe even handle most of this yourself. But this ought to be a lot of fun, and they'll be organized on the website on The Financial Call so that you could consume them in whatever order you want. But I would recommend you come through them in the order that we both post them online, and on The Financial Call, and in your favorite podcast players. Whether that's the main three we do, are Google Podcasts, Spotify and iTunes. 

Anything else, Laura, before we dive in? What else would you say about the structure of all of this? 

Laura: I think we made it really easy. So if you have something in particular that you're excited to learn about or interested in, great watch that episode, watch that season. If you don't know where to start, just start off from the start.

Zacc: And we found it really hard to explain income planning, for example, in one episode. So we're going to need to build on the episode sequentially. So in other words - yeah, go ahead and consume whatever you want but there'll probably be a few moments where you'll think, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to go back and listen to the old ones.” Which is probably true because we can't do it all in one episode. But let's dive into organizing retirement income today. 

So I think this is really hard. This is hard for people to figure it out. And they're looking at “I had a paycheck. It was pretty simple. I had a W2 every year at the end of the year, they told me how much money I made. Then healthcare was withheld from that. Taxes were withheld from, and even you know, maybe some other costs were withheld from that. And then like retirement savings and things like that.” They get their net pay, they spend their net pay. It was kind of all just built in and automatic. And then you compound thirty plus years of doing that and you get into a groove that I think is really hard for people. And you'll hear this frequently from us, that retirement transition can be spooky and I think people get nervous about it. 

Laura: I think this is one of the biggest questions that we get is, “How much will I have in retirement and will I be okay to retire now?” So we'll walk through everything that you need to consider and how it's organized and its different groups, and how much you will actually be getting in retirement. 

Zacc: Yeah, which is…let's just talk about that for a minute. Because back where I worked before, and I think I'll probably end up referencing my old employer many times throughout the seasons of The Guided Path. I loved my old employer and loved the people I worked with but there were some flaws in how we did planning there. And in one of those was we always started by asking them, “Hey Mr. And Mrs. Smith, how much money do you want to spend in retirement?” And that either set them up for failure or set them up for success by the end of our conversation. In other words whatever number they told me, it wasn't really going to change how much money they could spend in retirement. 

Laura: Right. 

Zacc: And so I shifted. And it was negative every time because people would say, “Oh, I want $10,000 a month.” And then I'd say, “Oh, okay. Let's now run the math and find out what you could spend.” And come to find out they could only spend $7,500 a month safely. And they felt disappointed and they felt like they couldn't retire. When the question was the wrong question. The question is, or the process should be, “How much can you spend?” And then the next question is, “Are you happy with that number?” And some people will say, “That's less than I'm spending now, but I am happy with that number because I’m planning to slow down.” Or whatever it may be. So there's a change in the frame of mind that I think most people should go through as they anticipate a transition into retirement, and stop thinking about a certain number to spend, but build up from what they've already…because the pie is somewhat baked by the time you get to your sixties. It's really hard to create an extra $4,000 of income for example after sixty-two. You'd have to have a big inheritance or something like that. 

Laura: Yeah and this takes the stress off of the person. They don't need to tell you, “Okay, this is what I need and it's different than that.” Then they're stressed. You know, they try to overcompensate. So it makes it easy.

Zacc: How many people don’t have a clue?

Laura: Oh majority. Majority of our clients have no idea. 

Zacc: What they need right? 

Laura: What they need.

Zacc: They walk in and they're in that groove of retirement spending, right? So that is probably the first thing that we would say is maybe reframe this. We're going to get into some of the technical details of exactly how you organize it all but let's reframe it. And you know what? I'm going to show our organizer. And we have an Excel file that we use to organize all of this data and I'm just going to run through that with you all. And if you're not watching this, that's fine. If you're just listening, we're going to talk through it. But if you are watching, then you'll have something else to reference and that'll be helpful. So let's give an idea of - and Laura, we're going to use you and Ty, is that all right?

Laura: Perfect, yep. 

Zacc: Okay so Laura's husband's name is Ty. So what, let's pick a…don't use your real birthdays, just for privacy sake. 

Laura: Let's do 2/22, it's today. 

Zacc: Oh, that's right. Okay and I'm going to pick 1950…let's do ‘55 for him. 

Laura: Perfect. I married older.

Zacc: Exactly. That'd be a lot older than Laura. If you're watching, you could probably tell, but that wouldn't be the best. All right so Laura, what is going to be your birthday for the sake of this? 

Laura: Let’s do 11/11/1958.  

Zacc: Okay February 22nd, 1955 and 11/11/58. All right. So we're going to talk about Social Security but here are some of the main things. That's actually where we would start is, let's get at least the Social Security strategies that are available to you and Ty out on the table. We have a whole section on Social…a season, right? Not just an episode, but an entire season on Social Security, because there is so much complexity around Social Security. So today is not the day in which we go into the details. So we're going to breeze through that pretty fast.

So I'm just going to say Ty had a $2,100 they call it a primary insurance amount and let's say yours is $2,400. So you both have a pretty solid Social Security benefit. Okay, so the first things that we would order out here, and by the way when you hear that PIA, that's Primary Insurance Amount, that's just what you get at full retirement age for Social Security. All your benefits are based on that, after that. Okay, so we're going to just make a few assumptions. Social Security cost of living adjustments have been about one point six-five for the last ten years. One point eight for fifteen years. And a little over two percent if you go back twenty years. Now, last year was at five point three?

Laura: Five point nine.

Zacc: Five point nine, okay. Good memory Laura. So that was the biggest one we've had in a while. We even got a zero not too far back which is rare. But five point nine is a big one. And so we usually model out about one and a half percent, Social Security cost of living adjustments. And expense inflation is hard. This is just how much is it going to go up on you in terms of buying milk, buying groceries, buying a car, paying rent if that's the case. You know, how much will that go up on you? And we try to make that go up faster than your income just to really stress test the plan a little bit. If you want to, you can push that up to four and five percent. That would be really, really high and create a lot of stress on the plan. But one and a half for Social Security and then two for expenses, that's a pretty reasonable spot.

Laura: And maybe we can break down the cost of living adjustment on Social Security really quickly. Social security does increase a little bit each year, once you’ve filed for that benefit. So we're accounting for a one and a half percent increase that benefit going up each year and then your expenses’s inflation. Say you needed $2,000 a month, now if that's increasing by two percent each year, it'll still feel like $2,000 all through retirement. 

Zacc: Right, right. Okay, thank you. So we're going to skip expenses for a minute. Like we talked about earlier. I mean, we have that on our front page here, but I'm actually gonna skip it. Then Social Security, your next steps are to talk about and think about the strategies and start to do break even analysis. We're going to do that later, we're going to in season two I think it is, we're really going to go into the break even age. But just understand that taking Social Security earlier gives you a lower benefit and taking it later, provides you more. That's the bottom line. And every month, some people think it's a year, but every month that you wait they give you a little bump. I'm only going to throw in two strategies. They don't necessarily mean that these are the best strategies. But for those who are watching I'm just throwing in benefits in 2022 versus benefits in 2025, just so that we can get a couple of examples.  And it shows that the break even is around, early eighties, late seventies. And we're going to talk about break even with growth later. Because people who withdraw from their accounts don't see the growth on their portfolio as much as those who take Social Security early, so you need to factor that in. And this couple, their breakeven with growth is actually closer to ninety. So we're going to opt for strategy one. We just made that decision really fast and that's a whole season, but we'll go over that later. Okay so that's step one, is you organize your Social Security strategy and then step two would be to add in any fixed income. So Laura, who has fixed income? 

Laura: Oh, Ty has a pension. 

Zacc: Oh, nice. Okay, how much is his pension? 

Laura: $2,500 a month. 

Zacc: Okay. Does that pension go up each year with a cost of living cost of living?

Laura: Nope, there’s no cost of living.

Zacc: By the way, we’re in Utah. Those who worked for the state, they're one of the few here in Utah that have a cost of living adjustment to their pension, that's the URS Pension. Which is great, but really any employer that has a pension is pretty great these days. Those are pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. So we're going to add…Laura, do you have a pension? 

Laura: No pension for me. 

Zacc: Okay, so let's just consolidate this into one view and one conversation. So if you're just listening, we've basically said - Okay, Ty and Laura are going to get about $50,000 of Social Security. Which let's just pause for a moment and think about that. That's a lot of income for a couple to have just from Social Security. And throw a couple of extra things on there - one, Social Security is not fully taxable. For a lot of people it's not taxable at all. 

Laura: Right. 

Zacc: And two, Social Security does go up with inflation. If we were to say, “Okay, you could trade in your Social Security benefits for a lump sum of money.” And if they're really smart, they call an actuarial tables, and actuarians were to go in and say, “Hey, how much is that monthly income worth to you today?” With a cost of living adjustment on it like it is, and with as much money, that to me is at least one and a half million dollars. So not a lot of people realize how valuable that Social Security income stream is. 

Okay, so you have about $50,000 of Social Security income. Ty has a pension for $30,000 and we have a total fixed income of $80,000 a year. And that's before we consider any withdrawals or any extra spending. Okay so this is the process we think people should go through first, which is: calculate your total fixed income and then figure out how much more you either can or you want to spend from your portfolio. We'll have some clients who can spend another forty, fifty, a hundred thousand dollars from their portfolio, but may not want to. 

Laura: Right. 

Zacc: And that's okay. But the first step is figure out your fixed income and that's just what's going to happen. And then you have control over your withdrawal need. And then we'll figure out the max spend that you could take from your withdrawals. And then you can do that or any number less and then taxes come into play. But before we move on, Laura, what would you say about that order? Is there anything else to add to that? 

Laura: No, I don't think so. You mentioned taxes. Just remember that all of these numbers are gross numbers, so before taxes. 

Zacc: Yeah, and most people are accustomed to seeing their net pay from work, right? So they also are- these numbers are also before healthcare expenses. 

Laura: Right. 

Zacc: And usually…and we have a whole Medicare episode as well, but usually your part B premium comes out of your Social Security. So each of these, each you and Ty would be getting about $153 or so. $150…it's gone up.

Laura: $170 

Zacc: It’s gone up to $170. Okay so, Laura you're on top of this. $170 per person per month, less in Social Security, they just withhold that part B. Plus you may have a premium depending on which Medicare plan. Again, we'll go over that later. But getting back to organizing your income, let's summarize it into: you have Social Security first. Define your strategy there, add in additional fixed income. Laura, what are some other examples of fixed income besides pensions that we run into? 

Laura: Maybe some people have alimony or some disability income that they're getting.

Zacc: Absolutely. Rental.

Laura: Rental income. 

Zacc: Some people have a sale of a business. Where they may have a note over the period of, oh, let's see, like a ten year note where they are going to receive that income over ten years. And you'd build that into your cash flow because that may reduce how much you're going to withdraw in the first ten years. But then you may increase a lot, how much you withdraw in the next ten to fifteen, twenty years. Another thing with Social Security is we're going to get into this later, but it's not always as simple as this is your plan and now it's always going to be that amount forever with the cost of living adjustment. Some people file one strategy and then switch to another. It might be a survivor and then their own. And that can change how much you're withdrawing each year, because your fixed income is going up and down. So we like to map out five to ten years worth. And I almost prefer not to look out too much further than five or ten years, right? We want to know that it's on a good flight path, but I don't want to count on numbers that we're modeling out for fifteen years in the future. Life changes so much who knows what's going on there, right? In terms of health and spending and things that you want to do. 

Okay so a couple of things. We haven't really talked about how much to spend. Which is a really, you know, highly debatable concept in our industry. And I'm going to give you a rule of thumb that I'm going to give you they call them heuristics. Just very simple rules that you can use to get to the final answer. And the theory behind this is, I'd rather be mostly right than completely wrong. You know what I mean? I'd rather have something to get me there instead of like just a finger to the wind. 

So the Four Percent Rule has been talked about a lot. And some people, if those of you who read and are into finance - you probably see this number thrown around. And you've probably even seen articles that say the Four Percent Rule is dead, we now have to take only three percent. And I understand where those are coming from because when the Four Percent Rule was created bond rates were higher. So I'm going to take just a moment, a step back and explain this for anybody who's not familiar with what this is. So, and you know what? And forgive me for not remembering names, cause I'm not really great at that, but I remember the concept here. The Four Percent Rule was, “What if we took a thirty year period and said, we'd like to withdraw the most possible from a portfolio, increasing it for inflation. What is the starting percentage withdrawal that we could take and not run out of money in a thirty year period?” And then they slid the thirty year period up and down the scale for as much data as they had of recent history and said, “Okay, let's look at all the periods.” Well, if you started back in the 1960s, there were some pretty rough times back then for markets. And then also, if you consider the Great Depression, pretty rough time there for the late 1920s, early 1930s. And it took a decade for them to get back from the Great Recession on just the S&P 500, for example. So the concept was, “What is the most we can take, and consider all of those thirty year periods, and not have to worry about running out of money?” Well, the answer that they got was four percent. But the problem is that in most scenarios, four percent withdrawals leave a ton of money in the portfolio. Because you're not saying on average, you can take four percent. You're saying the absolute worst thing that has ever happened, you need to only take four percent. So I think, if people can understand that, because they don't get all that context when they hear the Four Percent Rule. 

Laura: Yeah.

Zacc: They're just like, “Oh, apparently I have this Four Percent Rule I have to stay under.” And the reality is, that Four Percent Rule was designed not for real life. Because most people don't spend the exact same amount. In fact, a lot of people slow down as they get older and they spend less. Now inflation goes up, but their spending lifestyle goes down and those things can be somewhat offsetting. But that's not factored into the Four Percent Rule. 

The other thing that's not factored in at all that's a really big deal is an investor’s comfortability with adjusting their withdrawals. So if someone said, “You know what, I could change my spending by twenty-five percent up or down from my portfolio.” Now, once again, set aside all the fixed income as that's happening no matter what, we're just talking about that excess withdrawal. If they're willing to let that excess withdrawal, let's say someone…do some actual math. Let's say someone is going to withdraw $40,000 a year, and they're willing to take it down to thirty, if markets get really bad. That, if you run that through the calculations on these annual returns, it makes it so they can start with a much higher percentage. That'll be at least four and a half, or maybe even five, and five and a half. And we find that with proper portfolio management and rebalancing as well, you can take some of the risk off and do a good job there. But the bottom line is…I don't know, I'm trying to distill some of the fear that people have around this Four Percent Rule, and now it's only three percent. Because you think about this math someone with a million dollars withdrawing three percent, that's $30,000 a year. That's not a lot of money from a million dollar portfolio. And at Capita, we believe you could spend a little bit more. Now you can't, you cannot be irresponsible about this and spend anything you want. Some people will say, “Well, I make ten percent on my wealth.” That doesn't work. We're going to talk about sequence of returns. Even if you've averaged a ten percent rate of return, you cannot withdraw a ten percent withdrawal. Those are two different things. And we'll explain that later. But the bottom line is, I don't think we need to stick super strong to the Four Percent Rule. We can withdraw a little bit more, especially if someone's willing to adapt their withdrawals. And that's where good annual planning is important. Because if someone is close to…maybe they're spending five percent instead. If they are willing to do annual planning and adjust always to be at five percent, if their portfolio went down fifteen percent they have to reduce their withdrawals by fifteen percent. Anyway, you get the idea and it works.

Laura: And I think for the person that maybe couldn't adjust their withdrawals, they couldn't do it lower that's what they needed to live off of - The Four Percent Rule is a good place to start. 

Zacc: Yeah, exactly. And for those of you who are trying to do this on your own, start with that. For those of you who work with financial planners, we typically do what's called a Monte Carlo Analysis. So let's explain that really quick. A Monte Carlo Simulation is when we’re throwing hundreds and hundreds of scenarios at the retirement plan. So we're saying, “Okay, let's take this portfolio, and then let's throw various market returns in an order of over thirty years or so, and see how the portfolio does.” And that's one simulation. And then we throw another set of returns mixing that order up entirely and do another simulation. And the software does that hundreds of times and says, “Okay, after we've done this hundreds of times, which ones are the most successful and how successful are they?” And then we say, “We want to make sure at least maybe eighty-five percent, ninety percent of all the simulations leave a little bit of money at least at the end.” And that's a Monte Carlo Simulation. 

So instead of saying a Four Percent Rule, because your portfolio may be designed to produce a little more or a little less. Like a really good example would be if you have an investor who is absolutely scared out of their mind of investing and they're sitting in CDs at the bank, a Four Percent Rule is not okay for them. They are the few that need to push that down, you know to two or three, right? Because CD rates are so low, inflation will come in and they have to stay conservative. So anyway, that's the withdrawal, the safe withdrawal rate, conversation. We're going to go over that in more detail during the later parts of this season in other episodes where we go over actual withdrawal strategies. 

Okay so Laura, what should someone…let's say someone is wanting to begin the financial planning process themselves, or they're wanting to sit down with a planner to begin the financial planning process. Let's see if we can get them prepared because that's what we're talking about today. This is the beginning, right? What should they walk into that meeting at least knowing in their head or having at their fingertips? 

Laura: Yeah, Social Security. Knowing your benefit amounts. You can get that online at ssa.gov. They used to send it out in the mail, but I don't think they send that out anymore. So you can look it up - ssa.gov and it will show you what your benefits…what you're entitled to at your full retirement age. So that's good to have. Any pension income that you're going to have, any other income that Zacc and I talked about. If you're working part-time what that income is. And then your assets. And this can be really anything. This can be your 401k. This can be a pension lump sum. This can be a Roth account, an IRA account, a brokerage account, a bank account that you've saved in. If you have dollar amounts or statements for those, that's a really good place to start. 

Zacc: So walk me through, because you're doing a lot of this right now. A little bit of context - so in my role at Capita, I don't know if you've already picked up on it, but Laura is a lot more fresh on a lot of the numbers. That means she's doing a lot more individual planning than I am, and I'm doing more management of things. But Capita's advisors stay really fresh and stay up on these planning concepts. So Laura, walk us through that. Someone comes and sits with you, and they have their Social Security information in front of them, their pension information, and they also have their assets. I mean, how do you use that information? We've gone through an order, but I'm interested to know kind of in Laura's mind. What's going through your head as you're looking at all that and what do you do with it?

Laura: Yeah well, we'll use this software that you were showing Zacc, and we'll plug everything in. We'll decide on Social Security - what's the best strategy? When to take it and maximize the benefits. And then we kind of added up, “Okay, we're gonna have this income for this long.” And we added it all up together and then we figured out how much you need. We kind of talked about this earlier, we'll tell you how much you'll have. So this is the net amount after taxes that you would have to spend. If it's not enough, then we'll start to draw from all of your other assets together. And this is where that Four Percent Rule comes in. So all of your other assets together, you can safely take out around four percent of that each year. So then we'll plug that into the equation, say, “Okay, this is how much you could have to spend in retirement if you were to retire at this age.”

Zacc: And it seems like, at least the people we meet, can spend more than they realize. Don’t you think?

Laura: Yes! Yeah, I think people are pleasantly surprised when we go through that last page sayinging, “Okay, this is all your income together. This is your fixed income, your Social Security and your pension. That's going to last you for the rest of retirement, that's guaranteed.” Which is really nice. And then, “This is how much you could draw from your account safely.” And most people are pleasantly surprised with that page and it gives them a lot of peace knowing, “Okay, I'm going to be okay. I'm not going into retirement, you know, I'm not taking a step in the dark. I know what's going to happen.”

Zacc: It seems like it…and a lot of those people almost wished that they had at least looked at this years before, right? Because some of them will look at it and say, “Oh my gosh. Why didn't we look at this three years ago? Two years ago?”

Laura: “I could have retired two years ago.” Yeah.

Zacc: Yes. And they don't realize that they had that opportunity. Which is brutal. But of course, you know, we'd be happy to run through it with people. But, okay so we've organized. Get your fixed income in order and of your fixed income, start with Social Security. Then get your assets organized, at least in terms of what you have and what already produces income, like rental income and other income producing assets. And then think about withdrawal planning. And either use a rule of thumb or if you can, you know, it would be nice to use a little bit more precise information like your actual portfolio on you know, put through simulations if possible. That's better because then we know how your money can be spent rather than the average across all people. And then from there, we'll get into this another time, but now it's a matter of choosing from which account. 

So I want to just throw out a little teaser out here to help people understand how taxes will play into this, which we'll talk later about this. But for example, let's say you have, you've been putting money into your Roth, 401k and your Roth IRA and maybe even you've purchased some stocks or cryptocurrency, or something in an after tax status. Well, now you walk into retirement with these different tax status accounts and you're able to withdraw from them to control your tax bracket. And not a lot of people realize how much control you have in retirement. When you're working, you have nearly zero control over your taxes. When you walk into retirement taking $10,000 from your Roth versus $10,000 from your regular is a huge tax difference. And in some of the future episodes, we'll go through how you can control that, as well as what lines you should be watching as you take income from your portfolio. And we'll show how that income from your portfolio affects your Social Security. And then we have a whole season on charitable giving, which is a ton of tax strategy. There's a lot of charitable giving concepts which is just trying to do more good with your money. But there's also a section of Charitable Giving, which is trying to pay as little tax as possible because you're doing good with your money. So there's so much more coming and this is kind of a teaser and a beginning to it all. Next time…what is our very next? So it's Social Security Basics, is that right? 

Laura: That's right, yeah. So we brought up Social Security a lot today. We'll go through the more nitty gritty of really everything to get the basics. And then later on we'll have a whole season on it. So it will still be the basics but it will help you understand a little bit better so you can plug it into your income planning. 

Zacc: And we say basics, but I think we'll get into survivor benefits and spousal benefits and different strategies available, and some interesting stories and examples. We'll bring Tyler on, who does a ton of Social Security planning at Capita. This ought to be really good. 

Hey, thanks for joining today. We're excited that you'll be on this journey with us. Stick around I promise you, you will learn so much and you'll be so much better prepared for retirement. Or just even right now, you'll get your financial house in a little bit better order. And the worst thing that'll happen is you'll at least walk into conversations with financial professionals knowing the jargon and lingo. And I think you'll be a lot less intimidated. Thanks again. 

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