Tag Archives: retire

How to Pay Off Your Mortgage Before You Retire

My Comments: Retirement is the third stage of our lives. #1 is childhood when our needs are provided for by adults; #2 is adulthood when our needs are met by our efforts; and #3, retirement when you quit working for money and money has to work for you.

If you’re lucky, you don’t need to learn a new skill set to retire successfully. Or you understood what had to happen before you retired. One of those things is not having to pay more than necessary for shelter.

In a perfect world, you are happy with where you live and like whatever it is you live in. And before you retired, you figured out how much extra you had to pay each month to make the mortgage disappear just when you quit working.

Wendy Connick, Sep 28, 2017

Housing is the single biggest monthly expense for many families, so if you don’t have a housing payment to worry about during your retirement years your savings will last you a lot longer. Paying off your mortgage by the time you retire isn’t complicated; it just requires a little preparation.

Your repayment plan

If you know how much you owe on your mortgage, your interest rate, and how long it will be before you retire, figuring out how to get rid of the mortgage in time isn’t difficult. You can even use a mortgage payoff calculator to see the effect of adding extra payments.

For example, let’s say that you owe $220,000 on your mortgage at 5% interest, and it’s scheduled to be paid off in 25 years. However, you plan to retire in 20 years. Making an extra principal payment of $170 per month would get you paid off in 19 years and 11 months, and incidentally save you just over $38,000 of interest over the life of the loan.

Sticking to the plan

Coming up with a repayment plan is the easy part — sticking to it is a lot harder. Scraping up an extra $170 every month for the next 20 years can be a daunting task to undertake. Fortunately, there are ways to make saving that extra payment a lot easier.

First, make sure that the extra payments you make are to the mortgage’s principal, not a combination of principal and interest like your regular payments. Putting the extra money into the principal means that the loan will be paid down much faster, and you’ll save a lot more money on interest during the life of the loan.

Next, find a way to automate your extra payment. Ideally, this would mean setting up an automatic extra principal payment with your mortgage company, to happen along with your regular monthly payment. If the mortgage company can’t or won’t set this up for you, the next best option is to do an automatic transfer from your checking account to a special, dedicated savings account.

The biggest benefit of the second approach is that rather than taking a single large sum each month, you can spread your transfer out into multiple tiny transfers, which will be less disruptive to your checking account balance. For example, instead of doing one $170 transfer each month, you could transfer $5.70 every day from your checking to the special savings account. When it’s time for you to make your mortgage payment, you just make the extra principal payment straight from the savings account.

The biweekly payment option

Switching to a biweekly (every other week) payment system, instead of a monthly one, is another way to pay off a mortgage faster — assuming that it will take care of your loan balance in time. Splitting your monthly payment into two biweekly payments works because there are 52 weeks in a year, so it comes out to the equivalent of 13 monthly payments per year instead of just 12.

The main argument against biweekly payment schedules is that the extra money goes to both principal and interest, just like your normal payments. That means that your extra payment won’t go as far toward paying off the loan quickly as if you’d made the same extra payment toward principal only. Also, many lenders charge to make the switch from monthly to biweekly payments. So unless you have a significant reason to do so, stick with making extra principal payments. It’s the simplest way to have a retirement free from monthly housing bills.

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The World’s Most Deceptive Chart

My Comments: First of all, Happy Labor Day to everyone. I trust you are able to take some time off to spend with family or do something fun to celebrate the end of summer. I’m working very hard these days to complete a project that I call Successful Retirement Secrets (SRS). My plan is to find a way to reach out to the millions of people not yet retired, and share with them secrets I’ve discovered over the years.

These comments from Lance Roberts surfaced a couple of months ago, but they are even more relevant today. He has a lot of charts, some of which I’ve chosen not to include. I have put a link to his article at the end.

If you have money invested and are wondering how all this talk with North Korea might catch up with your retirement, this is good stuff. On the right of this page is where you can schedule a short conversation with me if you are so inclined.

by Lance Roberts | May 7, 2017

I received an email last week which I thought was worth discussing.

“I just found your site and began reading the backlog of posts on the importance of managing risk and avoiding draw downs. However, the following chart would seem to counter that argument. In the long-term, bear markets seem harmless (and relatively small) as this literature would indicate?”


This same chart has been floating around the “inter-web,” in a couple of different forms for the last couple of months. Of course, if you study it at “face value” it certainly would appear that staying invested all the time certainly seems to be the optimal strategy.

The problem is the entire chart is deceptive.

More importantly, for those saving and investing for their retirement, it’s dangerous.

Here is why.

The first problem is the most obvious, and a topic I have addressed many times in past missives, you must worry about corrections.

The problem is you DIED long before ever achieving that 5% annualized long-term return.

Let’s look at this realistically.

The average American faces a real dilemma heading into retirement. Unfortunately, individuals only have a finite investing time horizon until they retire.

Therefore, as opposed to studies discussing “long term investing” without defining what the “long term” actually is – it is “TIME” that we should be focusing on.

Think about it for a moment. Most investors don’t start seriously saving for retirement until they are in their mid-40’s. This is because by the time they graduate college, land a job, get married, have kids and send them off to college, a real push toward saving for retirement is tough to do as incomes, while growing, haven’t reached their peak. This leaves most individuals with just 20 to 25 productive work years before retirement age to achieve investment goals.

This is where the problem is. There are periods in history, where returns over a 20-year period have been close to zero or even negative.”

Like now.

Outside of your personal longevity issue, it’s the “math” that is the primary problem.

The chart uses percentage returns which is extremely deceptive if you don’t examine the issue beyond a cursory glance. Let’s take a look at a quick example.

Let’s assume that an index goes from 1000 to 8000.
• 1000 to 2000 = 100% return
• 1000 to 3000 = 200% return
• 1000 to 4000 = 300% return
• 1000 to 8000 = 700% return

Great, an investor bought the index and generated a 700% return on their money.

See, why worry about a 50% correction in the market when you just gained 700%. Right?

Here is the problem with percentages.

A 50% correction does NOT leave you with a 650% gain.

A 50% correction is a subtraction of 4000 points which reduces your 700% gain to just 300%.

Then the problem now becomes the issue of having to regain those 4000 lost points just to break even.

It’s Not A Nominal Issue

The bull/bear chart first presented above is also a nominal chart, or rather, not adjusted for inflation.

So, I have rebuilt the analysis presented above using inflation-adjusted returns using Dr. Robert Shiller’s monthly data.

The first chart shows the S&P 500 from 1900 to present and I have drawn my measurement lines for the bull and bear market periods.

It’s A “Time” Problem.

If you have discovered the secret to eternal life, then stop reading now.

For the rest of us mere mortals, time matters.

If you are near to, or entering, retirement, there is a strong argument to be made for seriously rethinking the amount of equity risk currently being undertaken in portfolios.

If you are a Millennial, as I pointed out recently, there is also a strong case for accumulating a large amount of cash and waiting for the next great investing opportunity.

Unfortunately, most investors remain woefully behind their promised financial plans. Given current valuations, and the ongoing impact of “emotional decision making,” the outcome is not likely going to improve over the next decade.

For investors, understanding potential returns from any given valuation point is crucial when considering putting their “savings” at risk. Risk is an important concept as it is a function of “loss.” The more risk that is taken within a portfolio, the greater the destruction of capital will be when reversions occur.

Many individuals have been led to believe that investing in the financial markets is their only option for retiring. Unfortunately, they have fallen into the same trap as most pension funds, which is believing market performance will make up for a “savings” shortfall.

However, the real world damage that market declines inflict on investors, and pension funds, hoping to garner annualized 8% returns to make up for the lack of savings is all too real and virtually impossible to recover from. When investors lose money in the market it is possible to regain the lost principal given enough time; however, what can never be recovered is the lost “time” between today and retirement.

Time” is extremely finite and the most precious commodity that investors have.

In the end – yes, market corrections are indeed very bad for your portfolio in the long run. However, before sticking your head in the sand and ignoring market risk based on an article touting “long-term investing always wins,” ask yourself who really benefits?

This time is “not different.”

The only difference will be what triggers the next valuation reversion when it occurs.

If the last two bear markets haven’t taught you this by now, I am not sure what will. Maybe the third time will be the “charm.”

Source: https://seekingalpha.com/article/4052547-worlds-deceptive-chart

This is how much fees are hurting your retirement

Thursday = Retirement Issues

My Comments: Value is in the eye of the beholder. When we need something, and for whatever reason, choose not to do it by ourselves, we spend money. If you are selling advice, or pork chops, or cars, people are going to spend money when they have to.

As a self-styled expert on retirement planning, what you pay for financial advice can run into several percentage points every year. What is your frame of reference that determines if you are getting value in exchange for what you are paying?

Aug 17, 2017 Craig L. Israelsen

This article is reprinted by permission (?) from NextAvenue.org.

The importance of keeping your investment portfolio costs low should be self-evident. They come directly out of your pocket. But you may be surprised to see how much it matters to stick with low-fee mutual funds and Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs). I’ve run the numbers.

The two primary portfolio costs consist of what’s known as the “expense ratio” of the funds or ETFs (the annual fee charged as a percentage of assets) and the “advisory fee “(if there is a financial adviser involved).

The average expense ratio among all mutual funds is roughly 100 basis points or 1.0% (one basis point is one hundredth of 1%). Assuming an annual advisory fee of 100 basis points, or 1%, the total portfolio cost is 2% (or 200 basis points). At that level, for a diversified fund portfolio with a starting balance of $1 million, the average annual withdrawal for a retiree between age 70 and 95 is about $126,426 (assuming the retiree makes the government’s Required Minimum Distribution or RMD). Remember: this is an average withdrawal figure over a 25-year period; the actual RMD will vary each year based on your portfolio’s performance during the prior year and each year’s RMD percentage.

If the cost of funds in the portfolio is cut in half by using mutual funds or ETFs with lower expense ratios, the overall portfolio cost can be reduced from 2% to 1.5%. By doing so, the average annual withdrawal then increases to $136,218, meaning the retiree will have roughly $10,000 more income each year. That works out to a “raise” of about $830 a month during retirement.

$32,000 more a year in retirement

But you can do even better. It is now possible, by using low-cost ETFs, to build a diversified retirement portfolio for as low as .10% (or 10 basis points). If the advisory fee were reduced by a mere 10% down to .90% (or 90 basis points), the overall portfolio cost could be lowered to 1.0%. At that level, the retiree can withdraw an average of $146,853 each year — or an additional $10,000 annually.

Finally, if the adviser lowered his or her fee to .40% and the fund expenses amounted to .10%, the total portfolio cost would be just .50%. At that level, $158,407 would be the average amount withdrawn each year.

All together, by slashing fund expense ratios from 1.0% to .10% and the advisory fee from 1% to .40%, the retiree could receive $32,000 additional annual retirement income — or roughly $2,600 more each month between the ages of 70 and 95. Clearly, the impact of portfolio costs is huge.

A modern diversified portfolio

Here’s how to put together a low-cost, diversified portfolio that I call the 7Twelve® portfolio. If you use low-cost, actively managed funds from various fund families, the overall fund expense can be as low as .54%. If you use ETFs from various fund families, the cost can drop to .16%. And if you use just Vanguard ETFs, the overall fund expense ratio can be as low as .10% (I have no affiliation with Vanguard; they’re just an investment company specializing in keeping costs low).

The idea of building a diversified portfolio for as little as .10% is not theoretical. It is a reality and can and should be considered.



Craig L. Israelsen, Ph.D., teaches in the personal financial planning program at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. He is the author of “7Twelve: A Diversified Investment Portfolio With a Plan” and his website is 7TwelvePortfolio.com.

Protect Yourself Against Cognitive Decline

My Comments: Readers of my posts know I usually talk about money or some aspect of it. My challenge over the years has been to assess the financial literacy of whomever I’m talking with. And that challenge increases with age; both mine and that of my friends and clients.

This article might start a useful conversation between you and your children and/or other family members. I’ve had clients reach the end of their lives leaving loved ones totally ignorant about their financial lives. It can dramatically increase the pain and frustration of those they leave behind.

by Danielle Howard \ Aug 12, 2017

You could lose the ability to manage your finances and not know it

Many people work hard to make sure there are ample assets to provide for the go-go, slow-go and no-go season of life. Have you ever considered how the mental capacity to manage those resources will change as you age?

A study done in January of 2017 by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College delves into how cognitive aging could affect financial capacity.

Your financial capacity is the ability to manage your financial affairs in your own best interest. It scopes a broad range of activities ranging from rudimentary money skills (understanding the value of bills and coins) to complex activities such as identifying assets and income, exercising judgment around risk and return of investments or comprehending tax implications of purchases or sales.

Many activities in our financial lives are based on “crystallized” intelligence. This is the knowledge and skills we have gained over time, also known as financial literacy. These are the practical, day to day financial applications or procedures in our lives. It is heightened with the level of involvement in family monetary matters. With normal cognitive aging, knowledge remains largely intact throughout our 70s or 80s.

Our “fluid” intelligence incorporates memory, attention and information processing. As our wealth grows, so does the need to track where it is, and how to best use it for what is important to us. This “fluid” aspect of our intellect can start to decline as early as age 30.

The research found that individuals who age normally are more likely to develop deficits in the area of judgment over their ability to carry out the basic tasks. However, there are cautions in both areas of capacity.

Many people in their fall season are competent of managing the “crystallized” aspects of their financial lives. If a person has not taken an active role in the family finances, they are vulnerable to losing capacity in this area. A “financial novice” may be a person that has had to take over the responsibilities of managing the family finances in the event of a death or incapacitation of another family member. Women who lose a spouse and have not been involved in the family finances are highly vulnerable to losing capacity in this area.

Cognitive impairment, ranging from mild (CMI), to dementia primarily affects financial judgment — the “fluid” intelligence”. This can pose challenges in that a person can feel confident and remain “knowledgeable” about day to day activities, but their impaired judgment makes them more likely to become victims of fraud. As people loose both the “crystallized” and “fluid” elements of their intellect, they are additionally exposed to financial abuse by caregivers.

Since a critical characteristic of cognitive decline or impairment is the unawareness of the deteriorating state, how can we protect ourselves and our loved ones?

1. Become financially literate. I have heard too many stories that started with “my spouse is the money person, I just let them take care of it”. Educate and empower yourself around everything financial. Start somewhere and keep learning.

2. Educate yourself on the aging process. Talk to your elder family members as to what they are experiencing. Embrace and make the most out of it. Do the best you can with your choices to maximize your health in all areas of your life during this season.

3. Build trusted relationships. That includes your relationships with friends, family and advisers (health, spiritual, financial). Make sure everyone has your best interest in mind and communicate with each other. Transparency, integrity and honesty will serve you well.

Danielle Howard is a Certified Financial Planner practitioner. She’s the author of “Your Financial Revolution: Time to Recognize, Revitalize, and Release Your Financial Power.”

Retiring Early? Here’s How to Delay Taking Social Security Anyway

My Comments: I’ve you’ve not yet signed up to receive your monthly Social Security benefit, this is worth a read. I encourage everyone to try and wait until Full Retirement Age (FRA). The outcomes are likely to be much better.

If you claim Social Security early, your checks will be permanently reduced. Consider looking for income elsewhere so that you can wait until full retirement age.

Wendy Connick \ Aug 9, 2017

Sometimes retiring early is unavoidable. If you’re struggling with chronic health issues, or if you’re laid off from your job in your early 60s and see no prospect of getting another, it just makes sense to go ahead and retire. On the other hand, claiming Social Security early can put a serious crimp in your income later on: Starting Social Security payments before full retirement age means your benefits checks will be permanently reduced. But if you can scrape together enough income from other sources, you can wait to claim Social Security until the most financially practical time for you.

Here are five ways to fill the income gap between the day you retire and the day you start collecting retirement benefits.

Buy an annuity

If you retire early, it may make sense to take a chunk of money and use it to buy an immediate fixed annuity. These annuities pay you a set amount of money every month for the rest of your life. That makes them something of a substitute for Social Security, and if you have cash to buy a substantial annuity, you may be able to delay taking Social Security for years, thereby letting your eventual benefit amount grow.

A caveat: Annuities are complex products that come with fairly restrictive terms, so do plenty of research on your options before buying one. You can start by learning some of the basics HERE.

Construct a bond ladder

Bonds are an excellent source of guaranteed income in the form of interest payments — but the drawback is that in order to get a decent return on investment these days, you need to purchase fairly long-term bonds, which means your principal will be tied up for years and years. Bond ladders help you to get around this problem. To construct a bond ladder, you buy bonds with different maturity dates so that you will regularly have bonds reaching maturity and releasing principal back to you. As you get your principal back, you use it to buy new bonds and keep the ladder going. Another perk of bond ladders is that if interest rates go up, you’ll be able to take advantage of the new rates as you continually buy new issues to replace the bonds that have matured. While interest rates are quite low even on long-term bonds, a good bond ladder can provide a substantial amount of income.

Buy dividend stocks

With their exceptionally high long-term returns, stocks are an excellent money maker. However, in order to realize the income from a stock’s increased value, you have to sell it. An alternative way to get income from stocks is to buy ones that pay regular, high dividends to their stockholders. While dividends aren’t as reliable a source of income as bond interest payments, if you invest in dividend aristocrats — companies that have paid dividends for at least 25 consecutive years — then those payments are likely to keep coming, and increasing, for many years. This strategy works well for retirees, because dividend aristocrats also tend to be large, stable companies that are unlikely to suffer from high volatility.

Get income from your house

The above strategies require a retiree to have a substantial chunk of money at their disposal. If your accounts aren’t quite so well-funded, you might not be able to generate enough income from them to get by without Social Security. In that case, your house may be the resource you need to make up your income gap. If you have more house than you require, renting out a room might be an excellent source of income — especially if you live in a college town. A somewhat more permanent option would be to get a reverse mortgage on your house, but before you pursue this option, make sure that you understand all the consequences of doing so. Finally, if all you need is a little extra cash to smooth out your cash flow, a home equity line of credit can help.

Work part-time

The side hustle is an increasingly popular way to make money at any age, and the best side hustles are the ones you actually enjoy doing. Your favorite hobby might be just the thing to bring in some extra cash; it’s clearly something you enjoy doing, since you’re doing it now without being paid for it. You may be surprised by how many people would be willing to pay you for the fruits of your labor. So if you practice any sort of craft, from sewing to building bird houses, try setting up a shop on Etsy or a similar site and peddling your wares. If you love gardening, look for a local farmers market and figure out what it would take to set up a profitable booth. And if you have years of experience in a job that can be done without leaving a computer, then you may be able to find freelance work online. There are several websites that exist solely to connect freelance workers with companies that have a short-term need for help.

A side hustle likely won’t pay the bills on its own, but combined with the other options above, it could help you stay afloat until you reach full retirement age — and finally claim those Social Security benefits.

Income Inequality and Local Politics

My Comments: As an economist, I’ve talked consistently about the threat to society posed by income inequality. My rantings make zero difference at the national level, where if this issue is not addressed, there will be rioting in the streets.

A friend and I talked this morning about the apparent collapse of societal norms he and I have used to navigate our lives for the past 60 years. Our hope now is that with the antics of 45 now a daily happening, the backlash from within the GOP and Democratic party, coupled with inevitable demographic changes, we’ll come out OK. Unfortunately, “hope” is rarely an effective management strategy.

Meanwhile, I’ve also become more engaged with elected people at the local level. And so while I can do little more than talk about it, I’m sharing this article with people I enjoy spending time with who might collectively be called progressives.

Thursday, Dec 29, 2016 \ Theo Anderson

In 1980, the top 1 percent earned 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Now, they earn 81 times more

The income gap between the classes is growing at a startling rate in the United States. In 1980, the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Today, they earn 81 times more.

The widening gap is “due to a boom in capital income,” according to research by French economist Thomas Piketty. That means the rich are living off of their wealth rather than investing it in businesses that create jobs, as Republican, supply-side economics predicts they would do.

Piketty played a pivotal role in pushing income inequality to the center of public discussions in 2013 with his book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” In a new working paper, he and his co-authors report that the average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States between 1980 and 2014. But only the highest earners benefited from that growth.

For those in the top 1 percent, income rose 205 percent. Meanwhile, the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of workers was basically unchanged, stagnating “at about $16,000 per adult after adjusting for inflation,” the paper reads.

It notes that this trend has important political consequences: “An economy that fails to deliver growth for half of its people for an entire generation is bound to generate discontent with the status quo and a rejection of establishment politics.”

But the authors also note that the trend is not inevitable or irreversible. In France, for example, the bottom 50 percent of pre-tax income grew by about the same rate — 32 percent — as the overall national income per adult from 1980 to 2014.

The difference? In the United States, “the stagnation of bottom 50 percent of incomes and the upsurge in the top 1 percent coincided with drastically reduced progressive taxation, widespread deregulation of industries and services, particularly the financial services industry, weakened unions and an eroding minimum wage,” the paper reads.

Piketty and Portland

President-elect Donald Trump’s administration promises at least four years of policies that will expand the gap in earnings. But a few glimmers of hope are emerging at the local level.

The city council of Portland, Oregon, for example, recently approved a tax on public companies that pay executives more than 100 times the median pay of workers. The surtax will increase corporate income tax by 10 percent if executive pay is less than 250 times the median pay for workers, and by 25 percent if it’s 250 and over. The tax could potentially affect more than 500 companies and raise between $2.5 million and $3.5 million per year.

The council cited Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” in the ordinance creating the tax. Steve Novick, the city commissioner behind it, recently wrote that “the dramatic growth of inequality has been fueled by very high compensation of a few managers at big corporations, as illustrated by the fact that 60 to 70 percent of people in the top 0.1 percent of income in the United States are highly paid executives at large firms.”

Novick said that he liked the idea when he first heard about it because it’s “the closest thing I’d seen to a tax on inequality itself.” He also said that “extreme economic inequality is — next to global warming — the biggest problem we have in our society.”

Investing in children

There is also hopeful news in the educational realm. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in economics at the University of Chicago who has spent much of his career studying inequality and early childhood education, recently published a paper that lays out the results of a long-term study.

In “The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program,” Heckman and others report that high-quality programs for children from birth to age 5 have long-term positive effects across a range of metrics, including health, IQ, participation in crime, quality of life and labor income.

Predictably, perhaps, the effects of the programs weren’t limited to children. High-quality early childhood education also allowed mothers “to enter the workforce and increase earnings while their children gained the foundational skills to make them more productive in the future workforce,” a summary of the paper reads.

“While the costs of comprehensive early childhood education are high, the rate of return of [high-quality programs] imply that these costs are good investments. Every dollar spent on high quality, birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children delivers a 13 percent per annum return on investment.”

The research is important because early childhood education has bipartisan support. Over the summer, the Learning Policy Institute released a report that highlighted best practices from four states that have successful early childhood education programs. Two of them — Michigan and North Carolina — are swing states in national politics. The others are Washington and a solidly red state, West Virginia.

Although it isn’t a substitute for other policy tools to address inequality, like progressive taxes, early childhood education has strong bipartisan support because it produces measurable payoffs for both children and the economy. One study found, for example, that the economic benefit of closing the educational achievement gaps between children of different classes would be $70 billion each year.

Early childhood education fosters an “increasingly productive workforce that will boost economic growth, provide budgetary savings at the state and federal levels, and lead to reductions in future generations’ involvement with the criminal justice system,” the Economic Policy Institute recently noted. “These benefits will, of course, materialize only in coming decades when today’s children have grown up. But the research is clear that they will materialize — and when they do, they are permanent.”

Investment Returns Will Shrink

My Comments: Putting money to work for the future is something we all try to do. Our expectations vary all over the map. If you use the past to predict the future, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

This is very relevant if we have money sitting somewhere that we plan to use tomorrow to support our standard of living.

If we’ve stopped working for a living, our only recurring income comes from Social Security, pensions, and whatever money we’ve saved. All of which makes it imperative we find a way to manage financial risk going forward.

by Dr. Bill Conerly, August 5, 2017

What will an investment portfolio earn over the long term? That issue is important to individual investors, state pension agencies and corporations offering defined benefit pensions. State pension agencies have been lowering their assumed returns. A decade ago, 8.0 percent was the dominant assumption, with some states higher and some lower. Now the most common assumption is between 7.0 and 7.5 percent. The sub-seven assumption was never used as recently as 2011 but is now embraced by several pension authorities.

What assumption should a family, a government agency or a corporate pension fund use? For a long time, it’s been best to go back to the long-term averages, but the current outlook is less rosy. I personally have revised down the estimate I use in planning the Conerly family’s spending and saving, and I concur with public bodies who do the same. I’m not fully convinced that I’m right; I just think the pain from erring on the low side will be less than the pain of erring on the high side.

The traditional approach is to look at long-run returns, and the book of numbers for that analysis is the SBBI Yearbook covering stocks, bonds, bills and inflation (hence the SBBI name). This research is based on pioneering work done by Roger Ibbotson and Rex Sinquefield.

Since 1926, when their dataset begins, U.S. common stocks have rewarded investors by 10 percent per year, counting capital gains and dividends, before taxes. Corporate bond returns averaged 5.6 percent returns. An investment portfolio split 50 percent in stocks (the Standard and Poor’s 500) and 50 percent in corporate bonds would have earned 8.3 percent per year over 1926-2016. That justifies a long-run expected return around 8.0 percent as was common.

But don’t stop reading yet! Remember two important points. First, past returns are not guaranteed in the future. Second, even if the past points the way to the future, the past includes whole decades with negative returns to stocks, albeit just slightly negative.

On the first point, the structure of the economy has changed substantially since 1925 when the good data begin. Jeremy Siegel in his book, Stocks for the Long Run, shows stock market data back to 1802. He finds a seven percent annual return from 1802 through 1925. This suggests that we cannot take investment returns fixed in stone; they can be higher or lower over long periods. (Siegel’s book is one of my top two picks for the average person making investment decisions. The other is Burton Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wall Street.)

Stock market returns have been pretty good recently. Look at the S&P 500 since 2012 (counting capital gains and dividends, before taxes):
2012 +16%
2013 +32%
2014 +14%
2015 +1%
2016 +12%

But high returns can be due to overly optimistic speculators rather than economic fundamentals. We know that economic growth has been below normal in recent years. We also know that interest rates have been well below long-run averages. That suggests – but does not prove – that returns on capital are lower now than in the historic average.

Low returns on capital might trigger a stock market gain in the short run, as lower interest expense makes corporate profitability look better. But in the long run, stock market returns must reflect the returns of investing capital in a business. So if low corporate bond interest rates today reflect low returns on capital, then stock market returns should be low in the future.

The story for low returns on capital now is simple: much of our new production requires very little capital. A steel mill or car factory requires lots of capital. A Google or Facebook requires far less. With less need for capital, the owners of capital will earn lower returns. And the global supply of savings is rising, partly due to aging baby boomers around the world and partly because a larger share of world income is in countries with weak social safety nets. I provided more detail in “Returns on Capital – And Interest Rates – Will Be Low In The Future.”

The second caution mentioned above is the tremendous variability of returns. The long-run average for stocks may be ten percent, but the entire decades of the 1930s and the 2010s had negative returns. An investor ended a ten-year period with fewer dollars than at the beginning. And don’t forget the spectacularly bad years: 1931, -43 percent, and 2008, -37 percent.

The long-run average tells you little about next year’s return. If the next bad decade starts just as you retire, you may feel pretty uncomfortable waiting for the long-run average to return. And if you can’t stomach the occasional bad year, then you’re likely to shift into a low-return investment when the stock market rebounds.

If I have to make a best guess as to how the next 100 years will look, I roll with the long-term average and say that stocks will return about ten percent. But I have arranged my personal affairs so that long-run returns can be much lower and I’ll still be able to eat.