On October 24th, 2022, the CFP (Certified Financial Planners) board’s Academic Research Colloquium recognized my most recent research (with A. Simon) entitled “Seeking Tax Alpha in Retirement Income” with a best paper award. I wish to thank Charles Schwab for sponsoring my award. In this post, I will highlight some of the key findings from this paper.
In this paper, we found that the Common Rule provides an important heuristic to guide better decisions in generating tax-efficient retirement income. Using it, we divided retirees into the following three categories that appear in the figure below. Then, we define tax alpha as the additional annual investment return necessary for the Common Rule withdrawal strategy to meet the same portfolio longevity or bequest as an optimal strategy.
This chart shows that three regions must be considered with separate algorithms to maximize tax efficiency in retirement income. The opportunity for tax efficiency is highest in the middle region, where the retiree and their spouse have sufficient, but not excessive, assets to support their retirement income needs.
We also conducted a sensitivity analysis to determine how varying our input values, like asset allocation, may affect outcomes for tax alpha. The chart below shows how the baseline of 0.54% per year changes when inputs are varied.
The chart above confirms that higher future taxes and bond interest taxed as ordinary income leads to higher alphas. Also, and somewhat surprisingly, the rate of return of stocks and bonds didn’t change outcomes very much.
What’s your tax alpha?
We invite you to see your tax alpha using our online calculator. Just change the inputs to match your specific situation, hit the “Find Optimal Withdrawals” button at the bottom of the page, then scroll down when the calculations are complete to see your personalized result.
We hope you find this research helpful in planning for your future retirement income needs!
In 2022, many long-term trends in asset correlation appear to be changing. In this post, we discuss the longer-term trends in several popular asset class correlations and highlight recent changes that continued from the first half of the year.
Short-Term Correlations and Long-Term Trends
The stock and bond markets continued their downward slide this month. The iShares Core S&P 500 losses for 2022 reached 24%. In addition, the bond markets continue their losses for the year, with the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond Market ETF down about 15%. This latter result is quite surprising, given the long-term correlation between the stock and bond market is 5%, but has recently grown to over 40%. Thus, the stock and bond market returns are more similar than they were in the past, so provide fewer diversification benefits. The chart below shows this upward trend in the correlation between the stock and bond markets in blue. The horizontal dotted line shows the long-term correlation from returns dating back to February 2004.
Asset Correlation Among Other Sources
The chart above also highlights the diminished effect of other sources on a portfolio’s diversification. For example, international equities are often sought for their diversification benefit. However, the long-term correlation of 88%, which also appears in this figures legend, hasn’t changed much this year. Bitcoin’s long-term correlation is 21%, but this correlation has steadily grown to over 60% this year. The one asset that has performed well this year is a direct investment in the U.S. Dollar ETF, ticker UUP. Long-term, the dollar has an insignificant correlation to the S&P 500. However, in 2022, the dollar’s correlation to the S&P 500 has grown significantly negative, as interest rate rises have increased demand for U.S. dollars. The chart below shows the total return of the five ETFs discussed here.
Given the economic pressures creating these effects on the markets, the remainder of 2022 may continue to surprise investors. In particular, asset classes that formerly had low correlations to the stock market may continue to diverge from their long-term values.
During our webinar earlier this year, we highlighted one of the retirement income challenges called “The Widow’s Penalty”. This situation occurs when the surviving spouse is filing taxes as a single, instead of married filing jointly. In this post, we elaborate on the effect of this penalty on a fictitious couple we call John and Jane and show that tax-efficient retirement income can help mitigate its effect.
Case Study for John and Jane and the widow’s penalty
The bulleted list here summarizes John and Jane’s situation at the start of their retirement.
John is 65 and has a life expectancy of 80. Jane is 62 and has a life expectancy of 82.
Their after-tax retirement income needs are $150,000 per year, reduced to $140,000 per year for the surviving spouse. (Today’s dollars)
Both have RMDs starting at age 72.
Their heir’s marginal income tax rate is 25%.
John and Jane both have retirement assets tax-deferred ($800k, $100k) and tax-exempt accounts ($400k, $50k). John owns a taxable account valued at $1M with a cost basis of $300k in stocks and $272k in bonds.
Their asset allocation is 60%/40% stock/bonds in all accounts, and they increase bond allocation by 1% each year.
John and Jane have annual pension income starting at age 65 of $18,500 each, and social security income starting at age 67 of $11,000 each.
As we showed in our previous post, if Jane is the surviving spouse, she can realize an additional 0.55% of investment return by drawing down from a mix of taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-exempt accounts. But, can this benefit still be realized if Jane lives longer?
Tax efficiency for a longer-living surviving spouse
In the example above, Jane lived for five years as a widow so needed to file her taxes as a single. Re-running our retirement income calculator and increasing Jane’s retirement horizon yields the following results.
So, these results show that Jane can still increase the inheritance for her heirs if she lives up to 15 years as a widow. If she lives 25 years as a widow, she will exhaust all of her savings but will be able to increase her portfolio longevity by 3.5 years. Either of these situations is possible by not following the common rule for retirement account drawdowns but instead using optimal account drawdown decisions.
Want to see how the widow’s penalty may affect your retirement plan? We invite you to try out our calculator to see how your heir’s inheritance or your portfolio longevity may improve!
It has been a very difficult year for cryptocurrency investors. Here, we will discuss the recent trend of cryptocurrency returns. Also, we will highlight the current cost of cryptocurrency mining, and share some thoughts on the future of this asset.
Cryptocurrency returns in 2022
Year-to-date returns of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the first ETF that tracks bitcoin futures (ticker: BITO) appear below. Like the stock and bond markets, all three of these assets lost value in 2022. Also, in our previous post on the risks of cryptocurrencies, the volatility of all of these cryptocurrency assets was significantly higher than the long-term historical norm of 15-20% for the S&P 500.
The future of cryptocurrency remains uncertain. However, few expect these new innovations in decentralized finance to go away. Instead, we may see longer-term price stabilization, as the investment in mining produces enough cryptocurrency to satisfy demand. Such price stabilization may not entice investors seeking outsize returns but could help cryptocurrency gain wider acceptance if its volatility can also be reduced.
With the 1st half of 2022 now behind us, we devote this post to a mid-year review of ETFs in a variety of stock sectors. We also highlight some recent research on sectors that have historically held up well during periods of high inflation, and the benefit of time horizon when investing in stocks. We hope you find this mid-year review helpful!
Record-breaking 1st half of 2022
According to this MarketWatch article, the S&P 500 recorded its steepest 1st-half year loss in over 50 years. But, remember that the S&P 500 is a broad-based index consisting of many different companies across a variety of industries. In fact, there are 11 sectors in the S&P 500, which in order of size (and an ETF to represent them) are:
Information Technology (XLK)
Health Care (XLV)
Consumer Discretionary (XLY)
Communication Services (XTL)
Consumer Staples (XLP)
Real Estate (IYR)
Mid-year review of best and worst performing sector ETFs
The chart below sorts the total return for the 11 ETFs identified above for 2022. As can be seen here, the biggest gains were among the energy sector (XLE) and the worst in consumer discretionary (XLY). Over this same period, the S&P 500 total return, measured by the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (ticker: IVV) was -19.2%. Also, note that the energy sector was the only ETF here that saw a positive return, which is not surprising given the war in Ukraine and its impact on supply in the energy sector.
Where will stocks go from here and what to do about it?
Of course, the most prudent course of action may be to simply do nothing based on this mid-year review. Given longer investment horizons, the stock market is less likely to suffer losses. Based on Bank of America research, the chart below supports this fact.
Simulation, or often termed “Monte Carlo” simulation, is a scientific method to model future uncertainty using a random number generator. In the case of our savings calculator, it models the uncertainty of annual stock and bond returns. By running many simulation trials, each trial can represent one of many possible outcomes for investment returns over your planning horizon. Then, you can see what risk you may be taking in assuming a more pessimistic or optimistic account balance at retirement. For example, using default inputs to our model, a retiree can expect their future tax-deferred account balance to be likely more than $629,047, but likely not more than $1,073,058. (These values are based on default 25th and 75th percentiles. Our calculator allows these levels to be adjusted.)
The two most common approaches to simulation are bootstrapping and geometric Brownian motion. Bootstrapping uses historical returns of stocks and bonds, and randomly samples from them for each trial to develop simulated returns. For our model, we reconstructed annual returns for an S&P 500 ETF and aggregate bond ETF from 1989 to 2021. We used the same methodology described by DiLellio (2018). Retirees benefit from using bootstrapping since it preserves the historical distribution of stock and bond returns, as well as the correlation of their returns. In particular, extreme market shocks, like the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the dot-com bubble burst of 2001, and the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 are all included when simulation uses bootstrapping.
One approach to simulating future returns is termed bootstrapping, where we simulate returns by random selection from a set of historical returns. In our calculator, we use annual returns from an S&P 500 and aggregate bond index ETF from 1989 to 2021. This approach has the benefit that it accurately represents the past, including the large market corrections in the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the dot-com bubble bursting in 2001, and the global pandemic in 2020. You can read more about this simulation approach in this peer-reviewed research in DiLellio (2018).
Geometric Brownian Motion
However, what if the future isn’t entirely represented by the past? In this case, we can use the geometric Brownian motion (GBM) stochastic process to simulate future stock and bond prices. Why? Using a GBM permits you to dictate return behavior using a normal distribution of asset returns. This simulation approach gives the retiree complete control over future returns. And, the retiree can select volatility and correlations of stock and bond returns. Lastly, GBM is the foundation for the famous Black-Scholes Option pricing formula. Unfortunately, GBM does not capture extreme events well. The image below from DiLellio (2018) shows how the normal distribution does a fair job, but not a perfect one, of fitting stock and bond returns.
So, which simulation approach is better?
The short answer is “it depends”. Like any mathematical model, they both have their own strengths and limitations. Fortunately, you can use either of these models to develop your savings plan. In fact, we hope you consider using both, to best understand the risk of achieving your savings goals!
We just finished the development of a new savings forecast tool to help you in planning your retirement future. In today’s post, we will highlight this tool.
Forecast your savings
To determine your savings forecast, our online tool asks for a number of different inputs across the following categories.
Information about yourself, such as your current age, retirement and taxable account values, and future planned contributions.
Information about your spouse or domestic partner, such as their age, their retirement account values, and their future planned contributions.
Your savings horizon, in years, your current and future asset allocation, and your marginal tax rates.
Future rates for stock returns, bond returns, inflation and dividends.
Simulation inputs, such as number of trials, asset volatility, correlation and type of simulation used.
Like in our retirement income calculator, simple menus walk you through each of these inputs, along with tips on what these inputs mean. When you are done, simply press the “Forecast Retirement Savings” button to see an automated report. The tool adjusts all values down for inflation so are in today’s “buying power”. Also, for those considering drawing down a taxable account assets prior to retirement, negative contributions may also be used to see what taxable account balance (if any) remains at the end of this planning horizon. Advocates of FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) may find this feature especially useful.
Our savings forecast tool provides two perspectives on retirement savings. The first perspective is what to expect or a so-called “best guess” based on a deterministic forecast. An example of a 10 year forecasted account values appears in the picture below for a current 52-year old and their 50 year-old spouse. You can then enter these account values and cost basis information into our retirement income calculator.
The second perspective is a probability distribution of future outcomes due to market uncertainty. Using 1,000 trials in a bootstrapped simulation with data from 1989-2021 for stocks, bonds and inflation, you can determine median (or 50th percentile) account values at the end of the planning horizon, along with visualizing the account values each year. Our software also supports geometric Brownian motion simulation, which can allow you to manually modify market returns and volatility, rather than sampling from historical values.
The final images produced by this tool are a distribution of outcomes for account values at the end of the savings horizon. To provide savers with specific results, we also include a table with pessimistic, median and optimistic account values.
We hope you find this new tool helpful in planning for your retirement. Please drop us a message to let us know what you think!
We wish to thank all the investors and financial planners who recently attended our webinar. The webinar was hosted by the Financial Experts Network on March 1, 2022, and entitled Seeking Tax Alpha in Retirement Income. If you missed the webinar, you are welcome to watch it again with the link below.
We also wish to thank the many respondents to our survey at the end of the webinar. We had quite a mix of individual investors and financial services professionals respond, as shown in the pie chart below.
Prioritization of new features and capabilities
In the survey, we also asked about prioritizing new features and capabilities in our optimal retirement income calculator. So, here are the results, in rank order. Then, for any that were “close”, we assigned them with the same rank, to properly account for sampling error.
IRMAA (Income-related Medicare Adjustment Amount)
State Taxes (as applicable)
NIIT (Net Investment Income Tax)
Tabular format for later year income, taxes, and account balances.
Saving additional profile data for multiple retirees and spouses
While the benefits from a Roth conversion are often small and slow to arrive, a Roth conversion will almost always pay off if given enough time, i.e., for life spans that extend past 90 and so long as annual distributions from converted amounts are not taken.
Dr. Edward McQuarrie, Emeritus Professor at Santa Clara Univeristy
New calculators coming soon!
We are also pleased to announce that there will soon be another free calculator to aid in retirement planning. The next calculator will focus on savings values prior to starting retirement and includes the use of a bootstrapping simulation, as mentioned in our post earlier in 2022. Stay tuned for the release of the new tool shortly!
Greetings ETFMathGuy subscribers! In this post, I will introduce you to our updated interactive calculator for tax-efficient retirement planning.
Note: This post has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.
How much will my heir or favorite charitable organization receive?
What will my future tax liabilities look like?
We still assume a mixture of tax-efficient investing in stock and bond ETFs, like IVV and AGG. Specifically, we assumed ETF stock investments generate qualified dividends and ETF bond investments generate dividends taxed as ordinary income. Of course, these assumption are only relevant to taxable account assets held by a retiree. Retiree’s may incur income taxes when they withdraw assets from tax-deferred accounts, like 401(k)s and rollover IRAs funded with pre-tax dollars. Tax-exempt accounts (like Roth IRAs) are generally not subject to any tax if withdrawn after age 59 1/2. The image below summarizes how we modeled different retirement income sources and how they contribute to after-tax income.
We now offer the ability to expedite calculations by storing profile data, such as month and day of birth to determine your first Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) age, and state of residence for community property tax calculations. You can also find a “subscribe” button below your profile data. So, if after running the retirement calculator and viewing results from the Common Rule, you must subscribe if you are interested in seeing the details on the Modified Common Rule or Optimal Rule. For example, if you run the retirement income calculator with its default values, you will see the following information about your plan. But, only paid subscribers will be able to view future optimal drawdown decisions and other supporting information.
Please note: You will need to register with us here for free and then confirm your email address with our new system. We have not transferred any previously provided email addresses, instead using them solely for distribution of this periodic commentary. We also plan for many additional upgrades and new calculators this year, as we discussed in our last post, or as you can see on our new home page.
Upcoming Webinar for Individual Investors and Financial Advisors
For 2022, we’ve decided that the cost to produce and maintain the free and premium portfolios was simply too high. We also recognized that, while these portfolios did exceed their objective in 2020, they did not in 2021. All premium subscribers will receive a pro-rated refund of their subscription payments shortly. In the meantime, free and premium subscribers can now access the final monthly portfolios, based on data through December 31, 2021.
So, after receiving very positive praise on our retirement calculator, we’ve decided to make improving it a priority. Also, thanks to significant feedback from individual investors and financial services professionals, below is a list of features we hope to provide in the near future:
Projection of retirement assets at beginning of retirement for pre-retiree planning
Optimized social security starting age for single or married couples
Roth conversions using either IRA or taxable account funds
Robustness checks with an automated sensitivity analysis for selectable uncertain variables
Risk assessment with simulation of uncertain stock market returns, life exptancy, after-tax income needs, and others
Real estate income and residual value
Support for Financial Independence, Retiree Early (FIRE)
Online storage of previous results for future reference
Of course, our retirement calculator already has many features discussed in the FAQ and listed at the top of the calculator. Also, if you are interested in greater details, you are welcome to download this whitepaper that we developed recently to describe the current model in greater depth.