- What questions do you need to answer to help create a dream retirement?
- Indexing your income protects your lifestyle
- Comparing today’s dollars with tomorrow’s dollars
- Crunching the numbers: Retiring on $1 million (or $1.6 million)
- Retirement income projections if you expect to have less than $1 million
- Two popular questions from readers
Note: This article is a supporting article to the three-part series, ‘Crunching the numbers: a $1 million retirement (7% and 5% returns)’, ‘Low yields: A $1 million retirement on 3% or 2% returns, and ‘Crunching the numbers: a $1.6 million retirement’ (links for these articles are set out at the end of the article).
Before we receive dozens of emails stating that $1 million can indeed last forever, we offer the following statement: If you live off only the earnings from your invested capital then your capital can indeed last ‘forever’. The dilemma facing all investors and retirees is balancing the desired lifestyle (and maintaining that lifestyle over 25 to 35 years) with protecting capital, and potentially leaving some wealth behind for your children or other dependants.
Important: Further, if you choose to use the superannuation system for your retirement plans, then you must withdraw a certain percentage of your pension account each year to receive concessional tax treatment (no tax) on your super pension account’s earnings.
This article explains the concept of ‘today’s dollars’, and also highlights why allowing for inflation when planning for retirement ensures that you protect your desired standard of living when you retire.
Note: Since 1 July 2017, you can transfer no more than $1.6 million into a retirement phase account. For more information on this new rule, see SuperGuide article Retirement phase: A super guide to the $1.6 million transfer balance cap.
What questions do you need to answer to help create a dream retirement?
Some of the most important questions you need to ask when planning for your retirement are:
- What type of lifestyle do you want? (see SuperGuide articles How much super do you need to retire comfortably? and Retirement income: Living on more than $60,000 a year).
- How long do you want this lifestyle? (see SuperGuide articles Understanding your life expectancy and The super challenge: At what age should I retire? )
- How much money do you have? (see SuperGuide article How to plan for your retirement).
- What investment return are you hoping to achieve on your savings in retirement? (see SuperGuide articles listed in the first bullet, and in the section Is my super fund performing?). Note that in many of our wealth articles we provide annual incomes and lump sums using different long-term investment returns (2%, 3%, 5%, 7%), but you may have different expectations).
- Do you want to leave any money to your children? (see our SuperGuide article on death benefits, Death and taxes: Guide to superannuation death benefits).
- Is there a gap between your expectations and what you hope to achieve financially for your retirement?
We regularly update and revamp our how much super is enough section of the SuperGuide website to reflect changes to the super and retirement rules: for example, ongoing changes to the Age Pension rates and thresholds, the July 2017 introduction of a $1.6 million pension transfer balance cap, and the January 2017 changes to the Age Pension rules. For more information on these government changes, see SuperGuide articles Retirement phase: A super guide to the $1.6 million transfer balance cap and Retirementgate: Government’s Age Pension debacle hits middle Australia.
Our wealth articles are very popular articles on the SuperGuide website, especially our $1 million retirement articles (see SuperGuide article Crunching the numbers: a $1 million retirement (7% and 5% returns) and Low yields: A $1 million retirement on 3% or 2% returns ) and the SuperGuide reckoners – Retirement Income Reckoner and How Much Super Is Enough Reckoner.
Consequently, we have received many emails challenging the fact that $1 million could ever run out when earning 7% after fees in a tax-free environment, and when receiving a certain level of income.
The confusion seems to be around the difference between withdrawing a flat level of income that doesn’t change for a 25-year or 35-year retirement, or withdrawing an income that increases in line with the cost of living (inflation).
Note: We have also updated the $1 million articles (and our $1.6 million SuperGuide article – see Crunching the numbers: a $1.6 million retirement) with an explanation of today’s dollars.
In collating the figures for the three features referred to in the 2 previous paragraphs, we relied upon the Australian Securities & Investments Commission’s MoneySmart retirement planner calculator. For an official response on the issue of whether a retiree could run out of money, we previously forwarded a selection of reader questions (just the questions not the actual emails) to the creators of the MoneySmart calculator. They provided explanations for why a $1 million retirement can still mean that you eat into your capital and eventually run out of savings, and SuperGuide has updated the responses to reflect the current rules (see end of this article for those questions and answers).
Indexing your income protects your lifestyle
We want to explain the how inflation (cost of living) and indexation (the modelling tool to combat inflation) translates into the concepts of ‘today’s dollars’ and ‘tomorrow’s dollars’.
The term, ‘today’s dollars’, is confusing especially when you’re looking up to 25 or 35 years into the future. Translating your tomorrow’s dollars into today’s dollars enables you to plan for the type of lifestyle that you want in retirement. If you use tomorrow dollars, they will be relatively meaningless when looking many years ahead.
Using an example, say you want to live on $50,000 a year in retirement and you plan to retire today. When you think of $50,000 a year we assume you’re imagining what $50,000 can buy you today and that’s the lifestyle you’re aspiring to. Cost of living increases are a fact of life nowadays so if you want to maintain the lifestyle that you can expect on $50,000 in today’s dollars, then you will need to increase your annual retirement income each year to maintain your lifestyle of today. If prices increase by 10% over the next three years, then in three years’ time you will need to be taking a retirement income of $55,000 a year, to match your lifestyle on $50,000 a year in today’s dollars. If prices increase by 20% over the next six years, then in six years’ time, then you will need to be taking a retirement income of $60,000 to match your current lifestyle on $50,000 a year.
The ASIC MoneySmart calculators automatically build the increase in payments into the calculations, although I use 3% cost of living adjustment in my examples, rather than the previous default 4.0% (ASIC now also uses 3%). For example, if I have quoted a lump sum amount that will deliver $60,000 a year for 25 years, then that lump sum takes into account increasing the annual income by 3% a year, even though we quote $60,000 in today’s dollars.
The $1 million and $1.6 million features referred to in this article (see links at the end of this article) allow for 3% inflation when working out annual incomes, so the figures in these features automatically allow for the annual adjustment in retirement incomes.
Comparing today’s dollars with tomorrow’s dollars
For those readers who are still sceptical about how $1 million, or even $1.6 million, can run out at certain levels of income, here’s another scenario.
For example, Beverley, age 66, retires today with $1 million. If she wants her money to last until after age 100 (for 34 years), and if she wants to maintain the lifestyle that she enjoys in her first year of retirement, then based on her savings, she can expect an income of roughly $56,000 ($56,325) in the first year, and that income will be indexed each year by 3%, and she will run out of savings after the age 100 (assuming an investment return of 7% each year).
In today’s dollars, Beverley’s annual retirement income for each year works out to be $56,325 a year in today’s dollars (although significantly more in tomorrow’s dollars, that is, what she will actually receive each year), with a PART Age Pension from age 83.
Note: If Beverley’s retirement savings generated a 3% investment return each year (rather than 7%), then she can expect an income each year of roughly $41,000 ($41,095) in today’s dollars until after age 100, with a PART Age Pension from age 77.
Beverley’s friends think that she is being ripped off by these estimates. The friends work out that if you stick $1 million in the bank and in shares within her super fund, and the super fund receives bank interest and dividends and other income, at 7% a year (after fees and taxes), then Beverley’s money should never run out if she only takes out $56,325 a year. In fact, her savings should be growing not diminishing. Earning 7% on $1 million each year works out to be $70,000, and this figure should grow as she accumulates more retained earnings. And on the lower investment return projections, they query why she is getting $41,095 a year if her savings are only generating $30,000 (3% a year) a year. What’s the story?
The ‘story’ is reasonably straightforward: If Beverley wants her lifestyle to be maintained, then taking out only $56,325 in 20 or 30 years’ time will not deliver her the lifestyle she wants. If Beverley withdraws $56,325 in absolute terms, that is, in tomorrow’s dollars, each year, then she will certainly retain her capital for longer, but her standard of living will dramatically decline in real terms, that is, in today’s dollars.
Note: By the time Beverley is 100 (assuming she lives that long), she is receiving an actual income of more than $150,000, although in real terms it is worth $56,325 in today’s dollars.
In 25 years’ time (by the time she is age 91), Beverley’s lifestyle will have more than halved in real terms, if she continues to take the same dollar amount that she first withdrew 25 years earlier, assuming 3% annual inflation.
I have used the ordinary calculator on my iPhone to calculate the income Beverley needs to withdraw from her super pension each year in tomorrow’s dollars, to maintain today’s lifestyle of $56,325 (see table below), assuming 3% indexation/inflation. For those wanting to manually calculate their future payments, simply multiply $56,325 (or your expected income) by 1.03%, and then multiplying that result ($58,015) by 1.03%, and continuing these calculations each year on the revised income in tomorrow’s dollars.
Note: In practical terms, if Beverley accepted that she was willing to have a lower standard of living as she got older, by taking out the same amount every year (without indexation), then she could enjoy a higher standard of living in her earlier years (and higher income than $56,325 in tomorrow’s dollars) and cop the fall in lifestyle later.
And answering the second question from Beverley’s friends: If her investments are only generating a 3% investment return, how come she can take out more than $30,000 (the investment return) from the very first year? Well, under the super pension laws she must withdraw a minimum amount, which is 5% of the account balance for a 66 year-old, which is taken into account in the calculator (you can use the calculator yourself to see how it works). And for the first 11 years of her retirement, she receives no Age Pension which seriously runs down her savings, but in the 12th year she receives a PART Age Pension and then in her eighties she receives a substantial Age Pension which becomes a FULL Age Pension in her nineties, and allows her super savings to stretch a lot further. Thanks to the Age Pension, she can withdraw more than the earnings generated on her super savings in her earlier years, because of her Age Pension entitlements in later years.
Beverley’s retirement income when retiring at age 66 with $1 million (7% investment returns) (3% indexation)
|Age (receiving retirement income)||Tomorrow’s dollars (actual payments)||Today’s dollars (payments in real terms)|
|66 (retires today)||$56,325|
Note: Incomes in tomorrow’s dollars (using 3% indexation).
Crunching the numbers: Retiring on $1 million (or $1.6 million)
Due to popular demand, we have updated our 3-part special on what a $1 million lump sum can deliver you in retirement, and what a $1.6 million lump sum can give you as a single person, or a couple, and whether you retire at 58, or at 60 or 66, 67, or even 70. Click on the article links below:
- Crunching the numbers: a $1 million retirement (7% and 5% returns)
- Low yields: A $1 million retirement on 3% or 2% returns
- Crunching the numbers: a $1.6 million retirement
Tip: You can also have a go at using the SuperGuide Retirement Income Reckoner. The Retirement Income Reckoner allows you to discover what various retirement balances can deliver you in an indexed annual income over retirement (including PART Age Pension). You can change scenarios, such as retiring at age 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 67 or age 70. You can opt to have the money last until after age 85, after age 90, after age 95, and after age 100. You can assume your retirement money is generating investment returns of 2%, 3%, 4%, 5%, 6% or 7%.
You may also be interested in the SuperGuide article, originally written by one of our readers but now updated and edited by SuperGuide, explaining how $1 million can indeed last forever. Be sure to check out the comments from other readers – it is a great read (note that we are not accepting any further comments on the guest contributor article):
Retirement income projections if you expect to have less than $1 million
For those readers who don’t expect to have $1 million in retirement savings, and that will be the majority of Australians, see the following SuperGuide articles for what retirement income you need for a comfortable retirement, or for something more modest:
- How much super do you need to retire comfortably?
- How Much Super Is Enough Reckoner
- Retirement income: Living on more than $60,000 a year
- Retirement planning case study: Single woman, aged 52
- Retirement planning case study: Couple aged 47 and 48
- Retirement planning case study: Couple aged 58 and 60
Two popular questions from readers
Two questions from readers, and ASIC’s earlier response to those questions, are set out below:
- Reader question: Can you please explain to me how the million dollars of super ever runs out? My thoughts are, if you have a million dollars in super and it returns 7% then you acquire $70,000 a year. This is just spending what your fund earns, not the one million dollars as a principal sum, so why does it ever run out?
ASIC’s response: The MoneySmart Retirement Planner works in “today’s dollars”. So if we assume an inflation rate of 3%, the calculator also increases your drawdowns by 3% each year in order to maintain a similar lifestyle. This means that a $70,000 withdrawal per year would partially dip into your capital after year 1. Or, expressed another way, a notional return of 7% is equal to a real return (after inflation) of 4%. If you only withdrew 4%, it would last forever.
Note: You can see the difference between today’s dollars and tomorrow’s dollars in the SuperGuide table appearing earlier in this article.
- Reader question: I just don’t get it. If I have $1.6 mil @ 7%, I generate $112,000 pa so how can my super run out at 91 or 101 if I only withdraw $100,000 pa? Will my super not keep growing? Or is it to do with the aged-based minimum withdrawal increases?
ASIC’s response (updated by SuperGuide): If we assume an inflation rate of 3% we also assume that you will increase your drawdowns by 3% each year in order to maintain a similar lifestyle. In effect, your real returns are only 4% each year. This means that you would start to dip into your capital after year 1. You earn 4% in real terms [SuperGuide’s comment: but the amount being withdrawn is more than 4% in real terms each year, which explains why your capital base falls].
For example, as a single person, if you start at age 66 with $1.6 million, you can draw $83,378 income per year (indexed each year by 3%, and assuming an investment return of 7%) and your funds are estimated to last until after age 100 (run out at age 101), with a PART Age Pension starting from age 92. For more $1.6 million scenarios (for both singles and couples), see SuperGuide article Crunching the numbers: a $1.6 million retirement or the SuperGuide Retirement Income Reckoner.