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Higgins Capital Management, Inc.

Breaking the Myth: The Truth About the 4% Retirement Withdrawal Rule

While the 4% retirement withdrawal rule has served as a guiding principle for retirement planning for decades, its efficacy in today's complex financial landscape is increasingly called into question. From its reliance on outdated assumptions to its inflexible approach to portfolio management, the 4% rule exhibits inherent flaws that undermine its applicability and reliability. As retirees confront evolving challenges and uncertainties, a reevaluation of retirement strategies is imperative, emphasizing adaptability, personalized planning, and a holistic approach to financial security. By acknowledging the limitations of established doctrines and embracing innovative solutions, retirees can navigate the complexities of retirement with confidence and resilience, ensuring sustainable financial well-being in an ever-changing world.

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Assumptions Misaligned with Reality:
The 4% rule claims to determine a withdrawal rate that would sustain a retirement portfolio over 30 years with a high probability of success. However, this decades old study has failed to capture the complexities of modern markets. Economic shifts, such as prolonged low interest rates, increased longevity, and fluctuating market conditions, challenge the assumptions underlying the 4% rule, rendering it less reliable in today's context.

Inflexibility in Portfolio Management:
A fundamental flaw of the 4% rule lies in its rigid prescription for portfolio management. This  one-size-fits-all approach overlooks the importance of dynamic asset allocation tailored to an individual's risk profile and evolving financial needs. In reality, retirees may need to adjust their investment strategy in response to changing market conditions or personal circumstances, rendering the static nature of the 4% rule impractical and potentially detrimental to long-term financial health.

Failure to Account for Sequence of Returns Risk:
One of the most glaring deficiencies of the 4% rule is its failure to adequately address sequence of returns risk. Market volatility, particularly during the initial years of retirement, can significantly impact portfolio longevity, as withdrawals during periods of negative returns can deplete assets prematurely. Research suggests that the timing of market downturns relative to the onset of retirement can have a profound impact on portfolio sustainability, with early losses exacerbating the risk of portfolio depletion. The 4% rule's reliance on historical average returns fails to capture this inherent vulnerability, exposing retirees to heightened financial insecurity in the face of adverse market conditions.

Neglect of Individual Circumstances and Preferences:
Retirement planning is inherently personal, shaped by unique circumstances, goals, and risk tolerances. However, the 4% rule imposes a uniform withdrawal strategy that overlooks the diverse needs and preferences of retirees. Individuals with substantial savings, alternative income streams, or a higher risk tolerance may find the 4% rule overly conservative, potentially sacrificing lifestyle enjoyment or legacy goals in pursuit of portfolio preservation. Conversely, those with limited resources or higher spending requirements may face undue financial constraints under the rule's rigid framework. By neglecting individual variability, the 4% rule fails to provide the tailored guidance necessary to navigate the complexities of retirement planning effectively.

Evolving Retirement Landscape Demands Adaptability:
The retirement landscape is constantly evolving, shaped by demographic shifts, technological advancements, and economic realities. In an era of prolonged low interest rates, shifting demographics, and evolving retirement norms, static retirement strategies like the 4% rule risk obsolescence. To navigate this dynamic landscape successfully, retirees must embrace flexibility, adaptability, and a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. Rather than adhering blindly to outdated doctrines, retirees should prioritize holistic financial planning, incorporating diverse income sources, tax-efficient strategies, and ongoing portfolio monitoring to optimize financial outcomes and mitigate risks effectively.

The information contained in this Higgins Capital communication is provided for information purposes and is not a solicitation or offer to buy or sell any securities or related financial instruments in any jurisdiction. Past performance does not guarantee future results.