If you’re having trouble translating your retirement savings into monthly income, don’t worry, you're not alone.
In fact, more than half of all U.S. workers (ages 20 to 79) have difficulty understanding retirement savings in terms of future monthly income, according to research recently published by the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute.
For instance, roughly one in every two workers doesn't know how much income a nest egg of, say, $1 million might generate each month. Is it $1,500, $3,000, $6,000 or some other amount?
The good news is that there are at least two ways for workers to easily estimate the figure, according to experts.
The simplest way
Rick Miller, founder and CEO of Sensible Financial Planning, and other experts recommend getting a quote for a single premium immediate annuity (SPIA). Doing so will give you a sense of how much monthly income you would receive for life from an annuity based on the value of your retirement nest egg.
Paula Hogan, founder and CEO of Hogan Financial, generates quotes for her clients using a platform called Income Solutions. If you’re not working with an adviser, Hogan says you can get an Income Solutions quote through Vanguard.
Miller says users of these websites should pick as their age the age they will be when they want the income to start. For example, someone who is 48 this year (born 1970) and wants income to start at their age 70 (22 years from now) should subtract 22 years from their birth year, making it 1948.
“This will allow them to see how much predictable annuitized income they would receive from their portfolio when they retire at 70 if market conditions were to be the same as today when they retire 22 years from now,” he says. “If they want income for themselves and their spouse, they should adjust their spouse’s birthday in exactly the same way. This will provide an excellent estimate of lifetime income from current assets.”
Using Miller’s example, in which you change the birth year to 1948, a 48-year-old with a $1 million portfolio who wants to start receiving monthly income from a single life only immediate annuity at age 70 could expect monthly income of $6,479 for life, according to the Schwab calculator.
The inexact way
Another way to convert a nest egg into monthly income is to use the 4 percent rule: Multiply your savings by 4 percent. Thus, a $1 million portfolio translates into income of $40,000 a year or $3,333 per month. “So, in rough numbers, that's what your savings will support,” says Michael Lonier, a financial adviser.
Financial planners have long said that investors could safely withdraw 4 percent a year – adjusted for inflation - from their retirement accounts over the course of 30 years of retirement and not run out of money.
Benefit of estimating monthly income
The LIMRA study found that learning how much income your nest egg might produce in terms of monthly income comes with one big benefit. “As a result of seeing their estimated income, almost half of all workers (48 percent) increased their retirement savings,” LIMRA noted.
And that, according to Limra, could have the greatest impact on the habits of younger workers as they have more time to accrue savings. The research shows that 55 percent of millennials increased their retirement savings after seeing their estimated retirement income.
Proposed legislation might help
Lawmakers have also proposed legislation that would require plan sponsors to show 401(k) plan participants the annuity value of their defined contribution accounts, or how much income they would receive from their employer-sponsored retirement accounts. “I think such a shift in policy would be helpful, with the caveat that the policy makers get the discount rate right,” Hogan says.
Robert Powell is the editor of TheStreet’s Retirement Daily www.retirement.thestreet.com and contributes regularly to USA TODAY. Got questions about money? Email Bob at email@example.com.