How Long Will My Money Last?

Most financial and retirement planning efforts focus on analyzing how much money you will need at retirement or want to accumulate by a particular date. If you save enough on a regular basis and earn some level of returns, your funds will grow to a certain level over a specified period of time. This can be as simple as compound interest.

However, there is another, often ignored, aspect of planning for a financially secure future. What happens as you withdraw money? How long will your money last? The important things to consider are the level of withdrawals and the earnings rate of the funds.

In general, if you withdraw less than what you are earning, your funds will last forever. If you withdraw more than you are earning, at some point you will deplete your assets.

Following is a chart showing how many years your money will last at different withdrawal rates and different earnings rates. The chart assumes the level of withdrawals increases at 4 percent per year (to cover increasing costs of living) and shows how long your money will last at different rates of return on your money.

How many years will your money last?
First year withdrawal rate Earn 4% Earn 6% Earn 8% Earn 10%
2% 50 years Forever Forever Forever
4% 25 years 33.5 years 69 years Forever
6% 16.7 years 19.8 years 25.4 years 42.8 years
8% 12.5 years 14.1 years 16.5 years 20.4 years
10% 10 years 11 years 12.3 years 14.1 years

For example, let's assume you have accumulated $250,000 when you retire at age 65. If you start withdrawing 10 percent ($25,000) per year, assuming your withdrawals increase at 4 percent per year (a good guess for inflation) and you earn 4 percent on your money, you will run out of money at the end of ten years. Even if you earn 8 percent, the money will be depleted just after the twelfth year.

Using the information in this chart can help give you a better understanding of what it will take to afford a financially secure retirement. However, it is not the whole picture. You must also remember that you will probably receive Social Security retirement benefits and pay income taxes.

There are two important messages to learn from this chart:

  • Once you start withdrawing money from what you have accumulated, the rate at which you withdraw is more important than the rate at which you earn interest.
  • It is important to have accumulated a significant amount of money before you start needing it so the amount you withdraw each year is only a small portion of it.

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