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Should We Rethink the 4% Rule? Debunking Dave Ramsey 

Personal finance expert Dave Ramsey’s recent suggestion that retirees should be able to withdraw 8% of their portfolios in their first year of retirement, adjusted for inflation thereafter, has sparked considerable debate. His statement contradicts established guidelines like the 4% rule, which many financial planners and experts recommend. In light of Ramsey’s claim, it’s crucial to examine historical data and modern analyses to understand the implications of such a strategy on retirement savings.

Understanding the 4% Rule

The 4% rule is based on historical data of U.S. stocks and intermediate-term Treasuries. Established by William Bengen in 1994, it states that withdrawing 4% of the retirement portfolio in the first year, adjusted annually for inflation thereafter, would sustain a retiree’s savings over 30 years in most scenarios​​.

Dave Ramsey’s 8% Withdrawal Suggestion

Dave Ramsey argues that because “good” mutual funds have historically returned around 12%, and with U.S. inflation averaging about 4%, retirees should be able to safely withdraw 8%. However, he overlooks the volatility of market returns and the fluctuating nature of inflation, both of which can drastically affect the sustainability of withdrawals. Moreover, studies have shown that funds performing well in one period do not necessarily perform well in subsequent periods, undermining the reliability of Ramsey’s assumption​​.

Historical Perspective and Recent Findings

William Bengen’s initial study, using data from the 1926-1976 period, supports a safer 4% withdrawal rate. Subsequent analyses, including more recent market conditions and global data, suggest that even a 4% rate may be optimistic, particularly in today’s economic climate with lower expected returns​​.

In practical application, simulations based on various asset allocations between stocks and bonds show that maintaining a balanced approach (typically 50-75% in stocks) enhances portfolio longevity compared to more conservative or aggressive strategies. These findings indicate that an 8% withdrawal rate significantly increases the risk of depleting retirement funds prematurely, especially during economic downturns and high inflation periods.

Case Studies and Portfolio Simulations

Detailed case studies and simulations across different historical periods offer further insights into how various portfolio withdrawal strategies in retirement could play out. These studies reveal that while higher stock allocations can improve portfolio longevity and wealth accumulation, they also increase risk during market downturns. Importantly, the adaptability of withdrawal rates and asset allocations in response to changing market conditions can help sustain retirement savings longer than rigid adherence to a fixed withdrawal percentage.

Ramsey’s recommendation of an 8% withdrawal rate significantly deviates from established safe withdrawal rates grounded in historical evidence and modern portfolio theory. Most empirical studies and simulations advocate for more conservative approaches, with withdrawal rates closer to 3-4%, depending on the retiree’s specific circumstances, market conditions, and risk tolerance.

Retirees are advised to adopt a variable spending strategy that responds to changes in portfolio values and market forecasts rather than a fixed, inflation-adjusted withdrawal strategy. This approach provides a more sustainable path to maintaining financial security throughout retirement, aligning more closely with historical data and current financial theories than Ramsey’s suggested 8% rate.

Author

  • W. Christopher Kovalchuk, MBA
    Chris began his professional career in 2016, as a financial analyst, in the Financial Technology Credit/Lending sector. He earned his MBA, part-time, from Concordia University in 2019. Chris has been a member of Claret since 2018 working in trading & research and recently moved into the role of Associate Portfolio Manager.

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