Episode 7: Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies


Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies

Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies


Kevin Lao  00:12

Hello everyone and welcome to the Planning for Retirement Podcast. My name is Kevin Lao. I am your host. My real job is running a Financial Planning firm in Florida. We serve clients all over the US remotely. But this Podcast is to educate you on the strategies we put in place every day to help our clients plan for retirement and achieve financial independence. The name of my firm is Imagined Financial Security.


So, if you have any questions about working with me one-on-one or, even a feedback on our Podcast, I always love to hear from you. So, you can simply visit my website at Imaginefinancialsecurity.com and contact me that way. Also, be sure to subscribe so you can stay up to date on our newest episodes. This is episode number seven, called Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies.


Before we jump in just a quick disclaimer, this should not be construed as investment advice, legal or, tax advice and you should consider your own unique circumstances, and consult your advisers before making any changes. These strategies come from my 13 plus years in the Financial Planning Profession, but are constantly evolving and changing as the business evolves.


Three Primary Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies

All right, with that being said, why don’t we dive in? So, there are three primary withdrawal strategies. You have the Systematic Withdrawal Strategy. You have the Bucket Strategy, and you have the Flooring Approach. You don’t have to stay in one lane. You can combine different strategies into your own unique strategy. But I’m going to hit the high points on each of these and talk about the pros, and cons and who might be a good fit for one versus the other.

Start your retirement income plan EARLY! 

But before we jump into that, what I will say, for all of you folks that are, let’s say five or, 10 years or, longer away from retirement, you need to start planning early. Ok, but the biggest issue I see a lot of the times, I have clients come to me. They’re right on the brink of retirement. They’re like, hey Kevin, I’ve heard good things. I I’m retiring in a month and they want to create a retirement income plan. There’s not a lot of change we can make happen in order to maximize the efficiency of their plan.


However, someone who’s five years away or, 10 years away, can diversify taxes. They can diversify the different buckets they are using. They can diversify the different investments that can use for income and retirement. So, the earlier you begin this process and this journey of retirement income, the better off you’re going to be when you actually pull the trigger and retire. Ok,


All right, so with that being said, let’s jump into the Systematic Withdrawal Strategy. Now, this is probably the most common strategy that most people have heard of. A lot of folks have heard of the 4% rule and for those of you that don’t know, the 4% rule, it’s an academic study that’s been tested years and decades.


Essentially, what it says is, choosing a well thought out diversified investment strategy and then once you retire, simply withdrawing 4% a year from your portfolio. You have a very low probability of ever outliving your assets. In fact, you have a very high probability of leaving assets to the next generation. Ok.

Systematic Withdrawal for Retirement Income


There are different variances of the 4% rule or, the Systematic Withdrawal Strategy, meaning you can say, I’m going to do 4%, but I’m going to build inflation each year. Meaning you adjust that dollar amount you’re taking out for inflation or, maybe instead of 4%, you choose 5% or, even 6% depending on your risk level. Ok,

Guardrail Withdrawal Strategy

Another strategy is choosing a % and adjust based on what the market does. For example, let’s say you chose 5%, and the market’s not performing well, then you may drop that to four or, 3% temporarily and wait for the market to recover. Conversely, if the markets doing well and you started five, maybe you even take six or, 7% out those years and take a nice vacation or, gift to charity or, whatever you want to do with it.


So, the idea is that there are different percentages that you can come up with in terms of the right withdrawal rate, and I actually did a Podcast on this, as episode number five, and so, check that out. But the idea around Systematic Withdrawals is once you’ve created an a well thought out portfolio of investments, ok, that another key is a well thought out portfolio of investments that are not correlated to one another. Meaning, you have investments that are moving in different directions at different times. Ok,


I’ll give you really high level example, let’s say 50% of your portfolio should be in equities and 50% should be in bonds or, fixed income. If we think back to 2008, 2009, equities dropped anywhere from 40 to 70%, depending on what market you’re looking into?


Ok, well bonds in 2008 during the Great Recession returned close to 6% a year. Ok, many of you have probably heard the notion of buying low and selling high because we had this well thought out investment strategy. Now granted, we have different segments of equities. We have different segments of fixed income. But just from a macro perspective, equities were down in no 809, fixed income was up. We don’t want to sell the losers. Ok,


So, let’s say we needed 10,000 a month from your portfolio. Well, a Systematic Withdrawal Strategy would create a process where we’d be selling $10,000 a month from your fixed income, as investments of your portfolio and letting the equities recover. In fact, we might actually sell a little bit more so we can actually buy up equities at a discounted price. But that’s a different story.


Now, fast forward a year later, in 2009, equities actually performed closer to 25 to 35%. Fixed income still defined, still perform close to 6%. But we want to sell the winners not the losers. So, equities were up at a far greater percentage than fixed income. So, in 2009, we actually might have a process to sell 10,000 a month from the equity portions of the portfolio. Ok,



The idea is, create the percentage of withdrawal rate that works within your financial plan, your risk tolerance and your investment strategy, and then create a well thought out portfolio so you can take the right investments at the right time, and not sell the wrong thing at the wrong time.


Now, this is great for clients that are comfortable with a little bit of risk in the market. They can stick to a process. Stay disciplined during the ups and downs, which I found is very difficult many times. Especially, once clients retire because they’re not working anymore. They can add more to their portfolio. They don’t have time to recover and they may have a desire for liquidity, and leaving assets to their heirs. Ok,


Now, the downside is, its labor intensive. I mean, if you’re taking a distribution every month, there’s going to be a selling decision every single month. You want to frankly, time it right. You don’t want to wait until the wrong time to sell an investment, if we can liquidate something while it’s appreciating really quickly. Ok, so it’s very labor intensive and if you have 12 distributions a year, if you multiply by over 30 years, that’s 360 decisions of selling that you’re going to be making throughout retirement.


Many times I have clients that are very well qualified to manage their own assets. They come to me and say, Kevin, you know what? I want to go sailing. I want to play golf. I want to spend time with my grandkids. I want to volunteer. I don’t want to do this on an ongoing basis. So, you take care of it. That’s a big burden of their shoulders.


Additionally, if you’re the decision maker, and you’re doing it yourself, if something were happen to you, who will be the one to step in and replace you? Are they qualified? Do they understand your goals and your strategy or, your risk tolerance, right? So, this is another reason why clients oftentimes hire someone like myself, a fiduciary an investment advisor to help them with the income distribution process for these Systematic Withdrawals. Ok,

Bucket Strategy for Retirement Income Withdrawals

All right, let’s move on to strategy number two. Now, there’s a lot of similarities from one and two those systematic will draw bucket. Ok, so I’m going to start with the Bucket Strategy and how it differs? But then we’re going to tie it together and explain how there’s a lot of similarities as well?



So, the Bucket Strategy, instead of looking at your assets as one portfolio, one investment strategy, one asset allocation, we are going to look at the different assets on the balance sheet, and actually come up with different investment strategies based on the time horizon in which those assets will be used for income. Let me explain that.


Let’s say, there are three accounts that you have on your balance sheet. Let’s say one is a traditional 401K or, IRA. Ok, so that would be a tax-deferred asset. Let’s say, you also have cash and a brokerage account, you know, investments that are not in a retirement account. But let’s say, you also have a Roth account or, Roth IRA or, Roth 401K, the most tax efficient asset you have on your balance sheet is the Roth account. All of these assets, all of the growth on these accounts are going to grow tax-free. Ok,



So, the idea is that we want to continue, to leverage the tax-free growth in the Roth accounts. So, we don’t want to tap those for a while. We don’t want to take them early. When I want to take them up you know, initially, we want to let those continue to cook and compound tax-free as long as possible.


Therefore, this account might be the most aggressive account on your balance sheet. Ok, so again, we want to have one overarching asset allocation and then we want to break up sub-asset allocations based on the time horizon of each bucket. Again, the Roth would be long-term assets, most aggressive, ok. Then one step down or, one notch down would be your traditional IRA or, 401K.


Now, these accounts would be subject to required minimum distributions at 72 and you’re going to have to start drawing these in retirement anyways. You might still take out a little bit of risk. Maybe retire to 60 or, 65 so you might have seven to 10 years or, 12 years until you’re taking RMDs or, requirement of distributions. We still might take on a little bit of risk, but not as much as the Roth accounts. Ok,


This would be in the middle of your risk tolerance, and then the most conservative bucket you might have would be your Taxable Brokerage Account. This would be an account. You have some cost basis in. You could take advantage of capital gains and capital losses. If you’re strategic there that’s a whole different conversation. So, this account might actually be the most conservative bucket, knowing that you’re going to be tapping into a lot of these assets at the very beginning of your retirement. Ok,


Again, we’d have one overarching asset allocation, and then we’d have sub-asset allocations in each bucket, and bucket based on the time horizons, ok. Now, the similarity to the Systematic Withdrawal is, distributions are still going to have a process of selling winners, not the losers, ok. So, if you’re tapping into that Taxable Brokerage Account, we’re going to want to make sure, we’re tapping the right investments at the right time and not selling at the wrong time. Ok,

Re-balancing is important for all strategies, but especially the bucket strategy.

Now, a big differentiator is that it’s, you’ve got to have a little bit of a process over time to rebalance those longer term accounts, because what’s going to happen is, if you’re just liquidating the shorter term accounts, the brokerage or, even the IRA, all of a sudden, then later in retirement, you’re going to become probably, more conservative as you get older, because you have less appetite for volatility. And all of a sudden, your Roth accounts super aggressive, and now you’re all in equities, right.


So, having a more of a process ongoing with the Bucket Strategy is, prudent to maintain your asset allocation and your risk tolerance. For very similar reasons as the Systematic Withdrawal, it’s great for folks that are comfortable with a little bit of risk. Liquidity is important. They may have a desire to leave a legacy. But



The big benefit of the Bucket Strategy is, more of a behavioral finance component because if we go through some volatility in the Systematic Withdrawal, your overarching portfolio is going to be moving with that type of investment strategy that risk tolerance. Whereas, the Bucket Strategy counts that you’re tapping into currently for retirement, are going to be much less volatile, much less subjected to that risk.


So psychologically, you know short term yes. We’re going through some bad times. Maybe it’s a recession or, just a bear market or, a correction. Well, your most of your equities, your growth assets are in those Roth accounts or, those traditional IRA accounts that we’re not going to be tapping for a long time anyways. Now, we already talked about the downside of it being the labor intensive, with a Systematic Withdrawal really, very similar in terms of the downsides of the Bucket Strategy.


You know its labor intensive. You’ve got to have a system and process in place that contingency plan is critical as well. If something were happen to you, you know your plan. You know, what your power of attorney or, your successor trustee. You know, if you have a trust, do they understand your plan. Ok,


So, lots to consider with a Systematic Withdrawal and the Bucket Strategy, and oftentimes, what I see personally, in my practice, is that we’ll use a combination of these two, right. We’ll create different investment strategies based on the time horizon of withdrawals, and then we’ll create a system for withdrawals on each of those accounts, based on which one we’re tapping for income that year. The final approach is the Flooring Approach.

Flooring Approach for Retirement Income

In general, most people should have Social Security as a floor for income essentially, a guaranteed annuity provided by the government. Ok, now, some folks might have a pension, whether they work for the state or, military so they might be lucky enough to get a pension. Many of us do not have a pension. The income gap that we’re going to be solving for is going to be either created from withdrawals from investments or, creating from an annuity income stream or, a private annuity.


For those of you that don’t know what a private annuity is? It’s essentially a pension that you create with your own assets. Let’s say, you had a 500,000 IRA, and you want to turn that into an annuity, you would go to an insurance company and say, hey, here’s 500,000. How much are you going to pay me for the rest of my life just like Social Security?


They would quote you for monthly income that you’re guaranteed to never outlive, and that’s the benefit to it. It’s very simple. There’s no maintenance involved. You’re basically, delegating the investment process to the insurance company which hopefully is stable and financially secure, and they’re going to guarantee you a check for as long as you live.


So, if you have longevity in your family, maybe your parents lived a long life, your grandparents lived a long life, and you keep you’re an Iron Man or, you keep in really good shape. You might live 30 or, 40 years in retirement, an annuity could solve for that longevity risk that you might have. Ok,



It’s also great for folks that are very anxious with market swings. So, for those first few strategies, you’re going to have to be comfortable with a little bit of risk. But I had definitely run into people that literally, they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. If they know their portfolio is subject to volatility in retirement, ok. It’s just a behavioral finance issue.


The idea of a guarantee checks that’s not going to be subject to stock market swings or, changes in the economy. It’s very comforting for certain folks. So, this is a great profile for someone who could be a great fit for this Flooring Approach. Now, the downside is the lack of liquidity on these accounts, so you couldn’t get at that $500,000 Ira, if you turn that into an annuity. Ok,


You couldn’t call the insurance company and say, what I changed my mind, I want to tap into my principal. Most of these contracts do not offer this. Additionally, there’s inflation concern because we’re in a relatively high inflation environment, at least currently, and expect it to at least be in the near term. Oftentimes, these annuity payments are not going to keep pace with inflation very well, and may not increase at all each year, maybe a static, a dollar amount that you’re getting for life.


If you live 30 years, you can imagine how that’s going to impact your buying power every month or, every year that goes by with your monthly income. The final downside would be legacy.


If there’s not a big concern of leaving a legacy to the next generation, an annuity could be a great tool. However, if it is important to you, and you do want to leave assets to let’s say, your children or, grandchildren, many of times these contracts are going to stop after you pass away or, if you’re married, your spouse passes away. Ok,


So hopefully, this is helpful. Again, these three approaches can be combined, ok. Oftentimes, what I see is, let’s say, client needs 70,000 of fixed expenses, and let’s say, Social Security takes care of 35,000 of that so, we might want to say, that 70,000 is your essential needs for cash-flow, and maybe your spending a little bit more above that for things like, travel or gifting.


What we might do is say, hey, let’s take a portion of your assets and turn that into a guaranteed life annuity to get you very close. If not at that 70,000 a year number between Social Security and your annuity, and then the remaining assets for your other discretionary expenses like, travel or, gifting or, home renovations, we can use from your investments, and psychologically that sometimes works.


So, this combination of the Flooring Approach with a Systematic Withdrawal with a Bucket Approach is very common. But again, plan early. Don’t wait until you’re about to retire, to create these different buckets. Create these different opportunities and avenues in which to draw income from.


So, the earlier you can start this process, the better, a big part of my planning for younger clients, that are in their 40s and 50s is to create the right savings rate for each of these buckets, to set up optimization from a tax standpoint, so we can be strategic. And once you get to retirement, based on who’s in office or, what the legislation looks like? What the tax code looks like? We can create a plan that works for that environment and then navigate the changing environment throughout retirement.



So again, hope you all found this helpful. Again, if you have any questions about your situation or, want to talk one-on-one or, are you interested about working with me one-on-one personally, just go to my website, imaginefinancialsecurity.com and again, subscribe, and continue to listen to our Podcasts. We always appreciate you. Until next time, thanks everybody.


Kevin Lao

I am the founder of Imagine Financial Security. We are a Flat Fee, Fiduciary Financial Advisor based in Jacksonville, FL. We specialize in retirement planning for blended families, tax optimization and investment management. We can work with you locally in Jacksonville or St Augustine, as well as virtually anywhere in the United States.