Sources of Retirement Income

Once you retire, you may need to generate ongoing retirement income to support your lifestyle. Some retirees assume their income options in retirement are limited to income-generating investments, but we believe this view is misguided. There are many ways to use your retirement savings to generate income, and the one that’s right for you likely depends on your personal situation and investment strategy.

Before you develop your retirement plan, you may want to familiarize yourself with some available options to generate retirement income as a retiree.

Income-producing Stock and Bond Investments

Investors often believe they need to generate income by investing in income-producing assets—or investments that pay out income to the security holder. While these options may limit investing flexibility and options, here are some common assets investors may limit themselves to when anticipating the need for ongoing retirement income.

High-Dividend Stocks as a Source of Income for Retirement

Generating retirement income from high-dividend stocks may seem like a plausible strategy—you can get equity exposure and receive ongoing dividend income. However, investing too heavily in these stocks can leave you over-exposed to a small number of sectors or areas of the broader stock market. Even if your returns are favorable, being over-concentrated in a limited area of the market could leave you vulnerable to trends and changes within that area. This over-concentration could even negate the portfolio diversification necessary to reach your long-term investing goals.

Further, in market downturns, some companies cut or stop paying dividends altogether. If you rely on dividends alone for your income strategy, you could potentially find yourself short of cash if those companies or sectors go through tough times. While dividends may be one source of retirement income, relying on high-dividend stocks for retirement income might not be the wisest course.

Bonds as a Source of Income for Retirement

If you have a shorter investment time horizon or require lower short-term market volatility than stocks, bonds may be a viable investment option as most  provide consistent and relatively predictable coupon payments.  If you require longer-term portfolio growth, bonds may not be the best fit your retirement savings. Stocks produce much higher returns over the long term (think 20-30 years). So whether bonds are right for you depends largely on your long-term goals and financial situation.

Also, keep in mind that bonds come with their own set of risks. Here are a couple of examples of potential bond risks:

  • Default risk. This is risk the issuer won’t keep up its end of the bargain, failing to pay you interest or repay your principal. Issuers with lower credit ratings may offer higher interest payments to attract investors, but they often have higher default risk.
  • Interest rate risk. Bond prices move in the opposite direction of interest rates. They have an inverse relationship, so a rise in interest rates generally causes bond values to fall. And if you need to sell your bonds before maturity, you could be incurring a capital loss if interest rates are higher now than before.
  • Reinvestment risk. Once your bonds expire and your principal is returned, you may be unable to find new bonds offering a comparable risk-to-return expectation as the ones that just expired. If interest rates have dropped, you may have to accept a lower coupon rate (return) for a similar amount of risk.
  • Inflation risk. The idea of fixed interest payments may be comforting to investors who seek a consistent and regular income stream. But as inflation rises, the purchasing power of your fixed income payments may fall. Furthermore, interest rates tend to reflect investors’ inflation expectations. If inflation is rising, it can cause your bond prices to fall while reducing the purchasing power of your interest income. This “double whammy” may be especially painful if you rely primarily on bonds for retirement income.

Additionally, individual bonds can sometimes be illiquid (compared to stocks). Bond tranches can be so large they may trade for tens of thousands of dollars. If you hold a relatively small portfolio, these types of bonds can make it difficult to diversify your portfolio, which may even put you at greater risk of missing your longer-term investing goals.

Other Potential Sources of Retirement Income

In addition to stocks and bonds, some investors look to other potential sources of retirement income.

Annuities as a Source of Income for Retirement

Many retirees are attracted to the income features of annuities. Some annuities may even provide lifetime income, but you should consider potential limitations of these products before purchasing.

First, most annuities aren’t typical investments. They are more like insurance products. And their limitations emphasize the difference between the two—you may not be able to pass down annuity benefits in the same way you can pass on an investment as a gift or legacy. You may be able to extend annuity benefits to a beneficiary within limits, but that may come at a high cost.

The various benefits of annuities can also make these products expensive and illiquid. Here are a couple important questions to ask when considering annuities:

  • Are the costs worth it? In addition to fees, annuities often come with “riders” or additional benefits, such as income protection from inflation. However, these riders come with additional fees. Ongoing fees combined with additional rider fees can significantly reduce your longer-term returns.
  • What are the costs of illiquidity? If you need access to your money during times of emergency, withdrawing funds from your annuity contract earlier than planned may result in additional surrender fees. This decreased flexibility can be detrimental if you incur unexpected costs early on.

Real Estate as a Source of Income for Retirement

Some investors also look to generate income from investing in real estate, usually broken down into two categories: direct and indirect investments.

  • Direct Real Estate Investment refers to owning residential or commercial buildings for the purpose of collecting rental income, property development, or resale. If you are thinking of becoming a landlord, be aware of costly property upkeep. And if renters are unable to meet their obligations, you will be responsible for property debt obligations while you attempt to resolve issues and collect payments.
  • Indirect Real Estate investment typically involves buying shares in a fund or a publicly or privately held investment vehicle. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are the most common indirect real estate investment. But take note that not all REITs have adequate liquidity and you may not have control over which properties to invest in.

Potential Non-Investment Income Sources

  • Salary. If you want to work while retired, you will need to estimate how much you can expect to receive on a regular basis.
  • Pension. If your employer offers a pension, you should determine how much you can expect to receive.
  • Social Security. If you have started taking Social Security benefits, you may be familiar with how much you receive. If you haven’t yet, you may want to determine the age you wish to start receiving Social Security benefits and how much you can expect to receive from Social Security each month.
  • Business. Running a business during retirement can provide non-investment income. This income may be more susceptible to economic conditions than Social Security or a guaranteed pension.

An Alternative Solution to Your Retirement Income Needs

If you require longer-term growth and income during retirement, a personalized investment portfolio capable of achieving growth while providing the necessary cash flow—what we call homegrown dividends—might be an appropriate solution. Generating homegrown dividends involves selectively and incrementally selling stocks for cash flow. While investors can incur trading commissions through this strategy, it is a flexible and potentially tax-efficient way to generate cash flow in a taxable account, especially for investors with larger portfolios.

Fisher Investments Can Help

A second set of eyes on your financial future and income needs is a good idea. Contact Fisher Investments to speak with one of our qualified professionals or download one of our educational guides to determine which sources of retirement income can help you meet your retirement goals and objectives.

Investing in securities involves a risk of loss. Past performance is never a guarantee of future returns.
Investing in foreign stock markets involves additional risks, such as the risk of currency fluctuations.