Systematic Withdrawals from an Investment Portfolio

There are pros and cons to generating cash flow through systematic withdrawals from a prudently allocated investment portfolio of equities and fixed income instruments versus an immediate annuity.

Pros
  • This methodology is the “Cadillac plan” for clients when:
    • An initial withdrawal rate of less than about 4.5% meets their cash flow objectives with minimal risk ,
    • The cash flow needs to keep pace with inflation,
    • They have a desire to pass on assets to heirs that will receive a stepped-up basis, and
    • They can tolerate the moderate investment risk of a prudently allocated investment portfolio.
  • The portfolio offers liquidity/access to cash.
  • This approach offers substantial flexibility.  Adjustments to cash flow can be made in response to changing client needs and market performance.
  • If held as a personal asset versus in a tax-deferred account, capital gains are taxed only when realized (with long-term gains and qualified dividends typically at a favorable rate) and municipal bonds may enhance the net yield.

This approach is almost always optimal when life expectancy(ies) is/are short.

Cons
  • Assets and cash flow are subject to greater investment risk (versus a fixed immediate annuity).  Some clients may get very anxious when stocks and/or bonds suffer losses, especially in early years.
  • This strategy must presume possible versus average life expectancy, i.e., the plan must account for a longer life expectancy than a commercial annuity that is based on pooled averages.
  • The approach is more complex and likely involves somewhat higher expenses and maintenance costs.
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