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Retirement Planning: Strategies for a Secure Future

Even if it's my goal to continue working  longer, what would I do for healthcare,   for example, if for some reason I'm not able to  continue working until I'm Medicare eligible?   What is a safe withdrawal rate for me from  my investment portfolio if I need to retire   earlier than I expected to? Morningstar's  Personal Finance Guru joins us for part two   of our Building and Better retirement  series on Consuelo Mack WEALTHTRACK. Announcer: Funding provided by ClearBridge Investments, First Eagle Investments, Royce Investment Partners, Baird, Matthews Asia, Strategas Asset Management and Women Investing in Security and Education. Mack: Hello and welcome to this edition of WEALTHTRACK.

I'm Consuelo Mack. There are few tasks more fraught with financial  challenges and anxiety than  planning for retirement and replacing a work paycheck with one from savings, ostensibly to last a lifetime. It's especially daunting against the backdrop of 2022's broad-based market decline and the new era of higher inflation, rising interest rates and the threat of recession. This week's guest describes herself as being passionate about simplifying retirement portfolio planning. Amen to that! She is Christine Benz, Morningstar's widely followed and admired Director of Personal Finance, a position she has held since 2008. She is here for the second of our two-part series on Building a Better Retirement. If you missed the first installment, you can see it on Well, this week Benz is discussing retirement blind spots. She has identified six of them and she's going to help us fix them. The retirement blind spots are: retirement date risk, sequence-of-return risk, low-yield risk, inflation risk, health care / long-term care risk and longevity risk. She certainly ticked all of my boxes.

Now, how to mitigate those risks and what steps to take to solve them. I asked Benz to address them one by one, starting with retirement date risk. How big a problem is it? Benz: Well, this is simply that we tend to not be great judges of when we might retire. So there was a survey that Pew Research did several years ago where they asked pre-retirees approximately when they thought they might retire. And one trend that you see in the data is that people tended to think that they would be able to work longer than they were actually able to work. So many people identified kind of in the period from 70 to 75 as the period when they thought they might hang it up. Well, in reality, when they tracked those same folks about their actual retirement dates, they found that people were not able to delay retirement that long. So the short answer is that we tend to not be great judges of when we might retire. And there are a few reasons why this is the case.

One is the health situation, either our own health or our spouse's health or parental health may pull us out of the workforce. We know that ageism is a thing in our culture. We know that some folks who might have the intention of continuing to work may not be able to. They may have a job that's physically untenable to continue to do later in life. So there are a lot of things that can complicate someone's plans to work longer, which is one reason why I get very nervous when I talk to older adults who say, Well, my plan is to continue working until I'm 70 or 75 or whatever it is. As Morningstar contributor Mark Miller often says, that's a worthy aspiration. It's not a plan. Mack: So how do you resolve that? Clearly you can't anticipate it unless you're self-employed, in which case you're the one who's going to fire yourself. So that's right. There are some people – or keep your business going, whatever it is. Benz: Well, it's tricky, but the key thing is that you need to stay flexible.

And I think for older adults, it's really valuable to kind of have a contingency plan in mind. Even if it's my goal to continue working longer, what would I do for health care, for example, if for some reason I'm not able to continue working until I'm Medicare eligible? What is a safe withdrawal rate for me from my investment portfolio if I need to retire earlier than I expected to? What would I draw upon if I needed to pull from my portfolio? Do I have safe liquid reserves that I could draw upon if I were shoved out of the workforce in a year like 2022 when stocks and bonds went down at the same time? So I think you want to kind of build up, build in that contingency plan.

And then also top of mind is have a backup plan for some other form of work and maybe it's consulting in your field that you've built your career in. Maybe it's a completely different career path. But if you can find some sort of paid remuneration to tide you over in those early retirement years, that can go a long way toward helping your plan last and helping ensure that you're not having to invade your portfolio when it's at a low ebb. Mack: In part one of this series on building a better, more resilient retirement plan, and you've certainly talked about how to handle that from an investment point of view. So I just want our audience to know that, and they can see that on The next blind spot that you mentioned is sequence-of-return risk. So explain that. And it certainly is, you know, uppermost in our minds after what happened with the markets in 2022.

Benz: Sequence-of-return risk is something that retirement researchers really worry about. And this is basically the odds that early on in your retirement, often when your portfolio is at its largest, you encounter a really bad market environment that either features dropping bond prices, falling stock prices, high inflation. Well of course, we had all of that come into play in 2022. And so what retirement researchers really worry about is that a period like that stretches on for a period of 2 or 3 years or even longer. And if the retiree is simultaneously pulling too much from that portfolio that's dwindling, that is a very bad thing. And that can leave less, leave fewer assets in place to recover and heal themselves when the market eventually does. Mack: One of WealthTrack guests, Mark Cortazzo, who I know you know, is a financial planner, has given us two matching portfolios, equal amounts of money, but showed what happens if you retire in a down market like 2022 versus a market where the stocks and bond prices do really well afterwards. And it can just be devastating in those first couple of years of what happens to you and how quickly you can run out of money.

Benz: Well, that's absolutely true. And that's where we got the 4% guideline for safe withdrawal rates from, where William Bengen looked back over market history and tried to identify, well, what would have been the worst period in market history to have retired into. And he identified the period of the late 1960s to early 70s as the worst starting period in modern market history, because you had a convergence of bad events where you had the '73 '74 bear market for equities, which some of your viewers may remember, you had high inflation after that, and then rising interest rates to help curtail inflation. And that, of course, clobbered bond prices during that period. So that's the period when researchers look back into history that they home in on as the type of environment when you want to be very, very careful. I think it's too soon to say whether we're sort of in a period like that. But coming into 2022, there were certainly a lot of storm clouds gathering for new retirees specifically that we had very low yields on fixed income and cash securities. So there just wasn't much of a buffer for bond investors.

When bond prices decline, they felt the full brunt of that price decline because there wasn't much of a yield there to cushion the losses. Mack: So, Christine, let's take that worst-case scenario that we are in a period where we could be going into like a lost decade or a period, as you just described in the 1970s, for instance, of high inflation, poor market results. What do we do? Benz: Well, I think two key things.

So if you are accumulating assets for retirement, if you're not yet retired, don't worry about it. That this sort of environment is your friend accumulating assets at lower prices. But if you are someone who is just on the cusp of retirement or you've just retired, I would say that a couple of key strategies can come into play. One is if you can find a way to reduce your withdrawals in those bad market years that redounds to the benefit of the sustainability of your plan. So if you can pull in your belt a little bit in those tough years, that's the first thing you can think about. And then the second thing you can think about is just make sure that you've built a portfolio that includes safe assets that you could spend from. If we go through a period where stocks go down and stay down and we have, say, another lost decade like we had in the early 2000s, the idea would be that you would build yourself kind of a runway of cash investments, perhaps short and intermediate term, high-quality bonds that you could effectively spend through rather than having to touch your depreciated equity assets.

So those are the two things: curtail withdrawals if you possibly can, and also build a portfolio that includes safer assets that you could pull your withdrawals from. Mack: You were talking about yields and one of the retirement blind spots that would have been operative a couple of years ago is the low-yield risk. Now that's changed. So how much of a risk are yields now? Benz: Well, it's gotten so much better.

We had this war on savers going on for the past couple of decades, really, where we saw this steady drip drop downward in terms of the interest rates that you're able to earn on safe investments. The good news story of the very bad market environment we had in 2022 is that yields are much, much higher today on all manner of cash and fixed-income investments. So you don't need to stretch to obtain a decent income stream from a cash or fixed-income portfolio. And I would say that this is the kind of thing that kind of ebbs and flows over time if perhaps we have a recessionary environment going forward.

I think it's a reasonable thing to kind of think about that yields could, in fact, drop from here and you'd want to be able to adjust if, in fact, that happens. So another thing to keep  in mind, in a recessionary  environment, if we see yields on safe investments drop, we will probably also see the prices of higher risk, fixed income securities see price declines as well, because we typically see them move in sympathy with equity markets during recessionary environments.

So for me, that's kind of a caution against overly gravitating toward higher yielding, lower quality fixed income securities because they do tend to be pretty equity-like and do tend to respond negatively in a recessionary environment. Mack: You know, as you mentioned, if interest rates do drop, which they do, if we do go into a recession, then the  longer-term high-quality  bonds like Treasuries will do extremely well because bond prices go up when interest rates drop. Benz: Definitely the high-quality fixed income is just a superb ballast for equity portfolios. We saw it in the great financial crisis. My guess is that in some other recessionary environment or economic shock, we would see a similar pattern where high-quality bonds would really earn their keep. Mack: Now, another retirement blind spot that you've mentioned, which is quite real now is inflation risk. How can we resolve how can we mitigate the inflation risk? Benz: It's a huge risk factor. It's a risk factor for all consumers, people of all ages. But I think of retirees in some ways as being especially vulnerable for a few key reasons.

Some of the categories that older adults spend more on, notably health care, have historically been inflating at a higher, even higher rate than the general inflation rate. So that's one risk factor. Another risk factor is that if you have safe investments in your portfolio and retirees inevitably do and should have safer assets in their portfolio like cash, like bonds, Well, on an inflation-adjusted basis, you're going to kind of get eaten alive. Your purchasing power will be gobbled up. So that's another reason that older adults tend to be more vulnerable. And then a key issue is that even though a portion of your income stream in retirement is going to receive an inflation adjustment, so specifically, your Social Security benefits will get a very nice bump up.

We saw Social Security working exactly as  we would hope over the past  year in this inflationary environment, The portion of your portfolio that you're withdrawing for your living expenses is not automatically insulated against inflation, which is why it's so valuable to think about adding that inflation insulation to the portfolio. Mack: And give us some ideas of adding inflation protection to your portfolio. What would you suggest that we look at? Benz: Well, a couple of key categories. One is within that fixed income position, the fixed income allocation, I would hold a complement of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities and or I Bonds. And when we look at the allocations that my colleagues in Morningstar Investment Management would recommend, they would typically say 25 or 30% of a retiree's fixed income holdings should go in bonds that have those explicit inflation protections. Mack: That's a fairly sizable portion. That's a quarter or more of your fixed income.

Yeah. Benz: And probably more than many retirees have. I tend to like the short-term TIPS, short-term inflation-protected bonds because they provide more pure inflation protection without a lot of the interest rate volatility that come along with intermediate-term TIPS. But retirees should check out that within their fixed income holdings and then equities, we know over long time periods, even though they're by no means any sort of an inflation hedge, they do tend to outearn inflation over long periods of time. We typically see that equity return being higher than the inflation rate. I would expect that that pattern will likely persist into the future, which is one reason why I would say even conservative retirees should take steps to hold stocks in their portfolios simply because they need that growth potential that comes along with an equity portfolio.

Mack: And Christine, as far as the Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, you can buy them directly, you know, at Treasury, but you're talking about funds. So what are some of the funds that Morningstar recommends to buy TIPS. Benz: So investors can go either route. I would keep it very plain vanilla here, and that's probably a recurrent theme with me. I tend to like the funds that give you a lot of diversification and very low costs. So most of the big firms do run good quality core and even short-term TIPS funds. One I recommend and to the extent that I put together model portfolios: Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities is a fund I really like because of its rock bottom costs and kind of a no-nonsense approach to portfolio construction. So that's a good strategy and I think one that can make sense in retiree portfolios.

Mack: And you mentioned another blind spot  is health care and long-term  care risk, especially. Describe how significant that is and also how we can mitigate it. Benz: Many people think, oh, I'm Medicare eligible, I'm home free. But Fidelity does these annual reports on how much a 65-year-old couple will expect to spend in health care outlays, out-of-pocket health care outlays over their retirement time horizon.

And the most recent run came around, came in around 315,000 for that 65-year-old couple. And importantly, that does not factor in long-term care expenses. So it's a big number. A couple of key messages is, one, you're not paying for it all at once that, you know, typically will be paying for it on an ongoing basis. And your health care costs can really vary a lot, certainly by your own health situation. But also geography is a big swing factor that in more expensive geographies, certainly in big urban centers, people tend to spend more on health care. They may receive higher quality health care, but they will pay for it. So kind of customizing your own situation, thinking about your own situation, certainly to the extent that people are still accumulating assets for retirement, to the extent that they can be mindful about setting aside a component of their retirement assets to help meet health care needs explicitly can make a lot of sense.

I'm a huge believer in health savings accounts for people who are covered by a high-deductible health care plan. If you can start on this when you're young, fund that HSA to the max and then that is like gold for you coming into retirement because the funds go in pre-tax, they accumulate and can be invested, accumulate interest on a tax-free basis and then their tax free withdrawals for health care expenses. So it's just a terrific account type to bring into retirement, but you need to be covered by a high deductible health care plan in order to be able to contribute to one.

Mack: No the HSAs are fabulous. But for retirees, for people who are on Medicare, I mean, they really need a good supplemental health insurance plan. Benz: Absolutely. And good prescription drug coverage as well. And it's also important to re-shop that drug plan every year because your own needs may have changed and what's covered within your plan may have changed. So even though it takes up a little bit of time, if you can do that, a little bit of hygiene every year with your coverage just to make sure you're getting the best possible deal given the drugs that you're taking, that can be time extremely well spent.

Mack: Longevity risk is the final retirement blind spot. And I don't know how you anticipate or plan for that. What's your advice as far as handling longevity risk? Benz: It's such an important consideration, Consuelo. One thing I would say to your viewers is that we see a very strong correlation with income and wealth and longevity.

So my guess is that many of your viewers will be higher income folks who have done well in their careers, have amassed substantial assets. That's great news on many levels, but it does tend to mean that you will live a longer life and will have a longer retirement. So for couples who are, say, in their mid-60s or individuals in their mid-60s who are in fairly good health today, I think it's reasonable to plan for quite a long retirement where you'd want your portfolio to last 30 years or even longer. And so that argues for being conservative in terms of your portfolio withdrawals, not taking too much early on especially. And it also argues for having a balanced portfolio that includes plenty of growth potential. So you'd want to have ample stock exposure, not 90% stock exposure, but probably some sort of a balanced asset allocation because you need the growth potential that comes along with stocks.

Mack: And Christine, we also have in our audience, you know, people who are not as well-to-do and or are aspiring to be. Since so many people don't have a defined benefit plan any longer, they don't have a pension plan. So what about annuities? Benz: And I'm so glad you mentioned that, Consuelo, because annuities, especially with higher interest rates that we have today, that really embellishes the case for annuities in a lot of ways because an annuity, a very simple annuity, which is the type of product that I would tend to favor, is just a contract with an insurance company where they pay you a stream of income that will last for your whole lifetime. So it can be a terrific product. You don't need to have a lot of assets to have an annuity.

And one strategy I really like is just look at your household's fixed costs, your very basic outlays for housing and food and insurance and taxes. Tally those up and try to see if you can match your certain sources of income, your Social Security, plus potentially an annuity, with those fixed outlays. And that I think will just give you a lot more peace of mind with that long-term portfolio. It can get buffeted around. We can encounter more years like 2022, but you'll know that you'll have those very basic income outlays set aside without having to worry about your portfolio. Very basic, immediate annuity or even a deferred annuity that will start paying you at some later date can be really effective ways to embellish your lifetime income in addition to Social Security. But job one is get the most you can out of  Social Security because  that's the best annuity-like product that any of us has.

Mack: Is there one investment for a long term diversified portfolio that would actually address these retirement blind spots? Benz: Well, one fund that I really like, and I'm not sure that it addresses each and every blind spot, but Baird Aggregate Bond is a fund I would call out. I know you've had Mary Ellen Stanek on your show many times. She is absolutely terrific, Co-Portfolio Manager of this fund, Co-Chief Investment Officer at Baird. And what I like is that this fund is very high quality. So we've talked about, you know, the types of investments you would want in your portfolio in some sort of a recessionary environment. And this is a fund that I would expect to perform very well because it's high quality and low-cost fixed income portfolios.

Mack: Christine Benz Such a treat to have you on WEALTHTRACK for your annual appearance once again, and thank you for giving us two interviews about building a better retirement plan. You've really helped us tremendously. Thanks, Christine. Benz: Thank you so much, Consuelo. Mack: At the close of every WEALTHTRACK we try to give you one suggestion to help you build and protect your wealth over the long term. This week's Action Point is identify your retirement blind spots and take steps to fix them. Are they retirement date risks? It turns out for many people that decision is out of their control. Sequence-of-return risk? Last year's miserable markets made us all more aware of how important timing can be to long-term financial security. Inflation risk? It's a heightened reality for all of us now. And of course, should we be so lucky? Longevity risk is a challenge for many of us.

Depending on where you are in the retirement cycle, a few or all of these blind spots can be key issues. This is as good a time as any to talk to your family and your financial advisor about them. Next week we'll have another in-depth interview to learn about strategies you need to build and protect your wealth over the long term. In this week's Extra feature, we asked Christine Benz to share which financial blind spots are especially meaningful to her and how she is handling them. Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and our YouTube channel.

We appreciate the time you spend with us. Have a super weekend and make the week ahead a healthy, profitable and productive one. Announcer: Funding provided by ClearBridge Investments, First Eagle Investments, Royce Investment Partners, Baird, Matthews Asia, Strategas Asset Management and Women Investing in Security and Education. Mack: Hello, I'm Consuelo Mack. Every week on WEALTHTRACK we sit down with great investors and financial thought leaders to talk in depth about strategies you need to build and protect your wealth over the long term. Join us on Consuelo. Mack. Wealthtrack.

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