How Much Can You Withdraw From Your Portfolio in Retirement?

The Case for a 3% Drawdown

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Many people wonder exactly how much to withdraw from their portfolio during retirement to keep from running out of money. Once you can figure out a safe number based on your situation, the knowledge will go a long way toward helping you know how much more to save, and how you'll need to budget once you've retired.

Until recently, the commonly accepted rule of thumb was that you could withdraw 4% each year. However, experts are now suggesting that 3% might be better.

Key Takeaways

  • As you plan for retirement, it's helpful to aim for the amount of your portfolio you will withdraw each year.
  • Historically, retirement planners said withdrawing 4% annually was a good target that would prevent your portfolio from dwindling too quickly.
  • Nowadays, many think that 3% may be a better target due to lower portfolio values and inflation that has trended higher than conservative yields.

Why Is the 4% Rule So Popular?

A 1994 study by financial adviser Bill Bengen showed that the principal investment of retirees who withdrew 4% from their portfolios each year stayed mostly intact. By holding a conservative portfolio that produced enough yearly returns, they were able to keep pace with inflation.

Your investment account's principal will dwindle over time. However, with the 4% rule and a decent return on your investment portfolio, it should happen at a very slow pace. This means that you, as a retiree, would be statistically likely to maintain the bulk of your portfolio's value throughout your life.

For decades, a sum that will yield an adequate annual return of 4% has been the standard protocol in determining how much you need to save for retirement. For example, a $1 million retirement portfolio will provide you with you a retirement income of $40,000 per year at that rate ($1 million x 0.04 = $40,000). A $700,000 portfolio will land you a retirement income of $28,000 per year at that rate ($700,000 x 0.04 = $28,000).

Why 3% May Be a Safer Figure

However, some investors question the 4% rule, worrying that it is too aggressive of a withdrawal rate. These experts say that lower bond yields, like those seen in the 2000s and 2010s, make it much more likely for a portfolio to run out of money with that rate of withdrawal. They warn that even if bond rates do rise again to historical rates, projected portfolio failure rates may still be higher than what most retirees would be willing to accept. As a result, many now recommend a 3% withdrawal rate.

The two most important reasons behind this recommendation are inflation and lower portfolio values.

How Inflation Affects the Benchmark

When Bengen performed his benchmark study in 1994, the average return that was available from conservative investments, such as bonds, CDs, and Treasury bills, was 5.1%. By 2019, however, Treasury yields were 1.52%, and inflation was just over 2%.

As inflation rises, there's a greater chance that the returns on safe or conservative investments won't keep pace. Therefore, withdrawing 4% from your portfolio every year might be too aggressive a rate, because the growth on your investments might not keep up.

Lower Portfolio Values

The value of a stock and/or bond portfolio is volatile. It depends on how well the market is doing. If you adhere to the 4% rule, you might need to adjust your lifestyle based on market volatility.

For example, during a bull market, your portfolio may be worth $1 million. A withdrawal rate of 4% means you'd have $40,000 to live on each year. During a market tumble, however, your portfolio could sink to $850,000. If you adhere to the 4% rule, you'd have to get by on only $34,000 that year.

If you're locked in to certain fixed expenses and can't live on less money, that is where things get tough. If you need $40,000 to pay a year's worth of bills, you'll end up selling more of your portfolio when the market is down.


A market downturn is the worst time to sell, because you'll get less money for your securities. You'll also be reducing the amount of principal you can use to generate future returns.

That's partly why today's financial advisors are telling people to plan for a 3% withdrawal rate. This advice follows the idea of "Hope for the best, plan for the worst." Plan your necessary expenses at 3%. If stocks tumble, and you're forced to withdraw 4% to cover your bills, you'll still be safe. This means that the same $1 million portfolio would generate an income of $30,000 per year rather than $40,000.

The Bottom Line

Don't panic if you're nearing retirement and your portfolio isn't close to $1 million or more. This example is for planning purposes only. Other factors, such as any pension, Social Security, royalties, and income from rental properties, could change your calculations.

Your expenses in retirement might also be lower than you think. Once your mortgage is paid and your children have grown, many of your bills will be much smaller. Your tax rate during retirement might also decrease.

The bottom line is that it's important to prioritize saving for retirement. Save aggressively through 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs, and other long-term investments such as rental properties. You'll thank yourself when you're older, as you'll be able to enjoy retirement with more peace of mind.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. FPA. "Determining Withdrawal Rates Using Historical Data." Journal of Financial Planning.

  2. FPA. "The 4 Percent Rule Is Not Safe in a Low-Yield World." Journal of Financial Planning.

  3. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. “December 19, 2018: FOMC Projections Materials, Accessible Version."

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