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For Retirement, Income Matters as Much as Savings

Steady income or a lump sum? Last year, financial services firm TIAA asked working Americans: if you could choose between a lump sum of $500,000 or a monthly income of $2,700 at retirement, which choice would you make? (1)

Sixty-two percent said that they would take the $2,700 per month. Figuring on a 20-year retirement for today’s 65-year-olds, $2,700 per month comes to $648,000 by age 85. So, why did nearly 40% of the survey respondents pick the lump sum over the stable monthly income? (1)


Maybe the instant gratification psychology common to lottery winners played a part. Maybe they ran some numbers and figured that the $500,000 lump sum would grow to exceed $648,000 in twenty years if invested – but there is certainly no guarantee of that. Perhaps they felt their retirements would last less than 20 years, as was the case with many of their parents, making the lump sum a “better deal."


The reality is that once you retire, income is the primary concern. The state of your accumulated retirement savings matters, yes – but retirement is when you start to convert those savings to fund your everyday life. (1)


Could you retire with income equivalent to 80% of your final salary? If you have saved and invested consistently through the years, that objective may be achievable.


Social Security replaces about 40% of income for the average wage earner. (For those at higher income levels, the percentage may be less.) So where will you get the rest of your retirement income? It could come from as many as six sources. (2)


Systematic withdrawals from retirement savings and investment accounts. You may start taking distributions from these accounts at an initial withdrawal rate of 4% (or less). If these accounts are quite large, the income taken could even match or exceed your Social Security benefits. (3)