Why You Need a Retirement Withdrawal Strategy

Be just as strategic about taking money out of your retirement funds as you were about putting money in.

Anyone close to or in retirement knows that the term “retirement planning” can be misleading. It suggests that retirement is a destination. But the truth is, retirement isn’t a fixed end point, it’s a transfer point: Planning doesn’t cease when you retire. In fact, you may even plan more once you’re in retirement because you’ll need to account for how you withdraw and spend your money, while ensuring you still have enough for the future.

“You need to make sure you’re both living for today and planning for tomorrow,” says Bryan Koepp, Senior Vice President and Wealth Strategist with Regions Private Wealth Management. “Because if you withdraw too much from your retirement too early, you may face a shortfall later in life.”

This is why experts recommend a withdrawal strategy: a plan for how you withdraw money from your retirement account(s) to ensure your nest egg lasts. There are a number of strategies that may work for you, depending on your situation and goals.

Figure Out Your Needs and Resources

If you haven’t assessed your income needs, this article can help you get started on income planning in retirement.

Next, take stock of the resources you’ll be withdrawing from. “Identify and list every income source you have,” says Koepp, who suggests reviewing the list with your wealth advisor. This is an important step because you want to make sure you’re not withdrawing money from a growth asset, for example, which might otherwise appreciate and help your funds last longer. You also want to ensure you’re not paying any avoidable tax penalties for early withdrawals.

Once you’ve figured out how much you’re likely to need each month and the assets you have available, you can use these metrics to help determine the best way to tap into your funds to meet your needs. Here are three commonly used withdrawal strategies.

Strategy 1: The 4 Percent Rule

According to this rule, you withdraw 4 percent of your total retirement savings the first year you retire and make note of the amount. The next year, you withdraw the same amount, but adjusted for inflation.

Using this strategy, if you had $1 million saved, you would withdraw $40,000. The next year, if inflation were roughly 3 percent, you’d withdraw $41,200.

One upside to this rule is that it’s simple to follow, so if financial planning and adjustments are your least favorite part of retirement, this simple approach could work for you. It’s also considered one of the best ways to ensure you don’t outlive your money.

On the other hand, if your expenses change in retirement — whether it’s a medical condition or the desire to help your child fund a business — this plan doesn’t allow for as much flexibility without readjusting as some other options.

Strategy 2: The Bucket Strategy

The idea behind the bucket strategy is to keep a large portion of your retirement account dedicated to the future and growth. With this setup, you would put your funds into a few buckets. For instance, you might have a bucket for short-term or emergency savings. Then, you’d have a bucket for living expenses for the next several years. The remainder of your money would stay allocated in your retirement account as if you hadn’t retired.

On one hand, this allows you to be strategic about when you withdraw money: If the market is down one year, you’re not forced to sell investments. On the other hand, because you have only strategized for a few years, you’ll have to rethink your withdrawals and allocations every few years.

Strategy 3: Dynamic Withdrawal

Dynamic withdrawal involves adjusting your withdrawal strategy to your conditions and life goals. For example, if you have additional expenses one year, you might withdraw more. Alternatively, if the market has a down year, perhaps you withdraw less and cut back on your living expenses or travel plans for the year.

Dynamic withdrawals, because of their relation to both life and market conditions, can be a great way to ensure your money lasts through retirement. However, they can also require more time and planning and a greater understanding of your assets and market performance.

Regardless of the withdrawal strategy, there are a few things to keep in mind. Ultimately, according to Koepp, what’s most important isn’t achieving the right quantity of withdrawals, it’s achieving the right quality of life. You want to make sure you pay attention to things like tax rates, economic trends, and changes in the cost of living. But, concludes Koepp, “identify what’s most important to you, and communicate that to the professionals you work with to make sure your distributions are done right.”

Learn more about how a Regions Wealth Advisor can help customize a retirement withdrawal strategy that meets your needs.


This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and irs.gov for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.