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Savers Too Scared To Invest Have 81% Chance of Dying Broke

As you age, your fear of running out of money will grow. It should. Because as you approach retirement, you’ll have fewer opportunities to out-earn your spending. Fear rightly keeps you in check. It can be the difference between running out of resources and a sustainable retirement income strategy.

Too much fear, though, can be a disaster. Some retirement savers losing sleep over their portfolios decide to stuff their cash under their mattresses instead. It’s a lumpy solution that only causes more tossing and turning. The problem is, when you attempt to avoid one set of risks, you almost always expose yourself to another.

Safe, but very sorry

Let’s say you absolutely fear the stock and bond markets and want nothing to do with them. Your primary retirement investment strategy involves CDs, money market accounts and boring old savings accounts. The bottom line is unless you plan on dying young, you’re likely to run out of money. Inflation  can turn your savings into an ever-diminishing pile of paper. And when you factor in withdrawals, a cash-only investment strategy is terrifying and unsustainable.

Savers refuse to become investors because they’re terrified of the unknown. In their minds, it makes more sense to avoid the known risks. But if they did the math, they might think otherwise.

Based on research I did for my book Mock Retirement, you have a staggering 81% chance of running out of money when taking 4% withdrawals from a portfolio made up of cash holdings during a 30-year retirement. With a portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds, you’d have just an 8% chance of running out.

Don’t gloss over that last conclusion: Safety seekers are 10 times more likely to run out of money by refusing to invest.

Good, bad or otherwise, disappointment in interest rates and a refusal to take a stake in stock and bond markets have spurred the popularity of insurance-based products, such as annuities. According to the Insured Retirement Institute, roughly $230 billion of annuities will be sold in 2016. The idea behind them is to pass some of your market risk onto the insurance companies. Depending on the type of annuity, you either get a portion of the market upside — net fees — or you simply receive a fixed rate of return.

As with any product, it behooves you to understand all sides of the coin. Familiarizing yourself with jargon, such as surrender period, M&E charges, participation rates, cap rate and annuitization, is a great place to start.

If getting decent returns is having cake, and avoiding risk while not compromising other areas of your financial life is like eating it too, then no one is having their cake and eating it too. The second you avoid the risks of equity and bond markets, you are instantly subjected to liquidity risks, inflation risks and insurance-failure risks. You cannot avoid risk, despite what advertisements might tell you.

I’m not creating this debate out of thin air. The financial services industry has been arguing with itself for decades over which is the best way to invest retirement savings. Just turn on a talk radio station and wait for the ads. “You’ve worked too hard to have your retirement nest egg go up in smoke because your broker guessed wrong,” one commercial will assert, while another will tell you not to “fall prey to commission-based financial salespeople.” These two advertisers are trying to beat each other up.

It reminds me of Shakespearean insults.  “A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality,” vs. “Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.” 

Take a stand

You need to make a decision. What risks are you willing to dance with?

My father taught me to make tough decisions the way Ben Franklin did:  Create a pro and con chart. Grab two pieces of paper. On the first, write “Be in the market” on top. Draw a line down the middle, and list the pros on the left, and the cons on the right. Do the same thing with the second sheet titled “Avoid Market risks.” If you want, ask the two firms in the radio commercials to help you complete the charts. Take your time. A huge part of the Ben Franklin process involves mulling over the impact of your decisions. Hopefully, the impact will result in more Benjamin Franklins in your wallet.

It takes courage to make such important financial decisions. Running from the wrong type of risk can make for an awful retirement. Be brave, be steadfast and make a pro-con chart. And consider Shakespeare’s words of wisdom:

Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.


Written by: Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host, and he has a free podcast: Million Dollar Plan



Sweet Financial Services is an independent firm. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Raymond James and Sweet Financial Services are not affiliated with nor do they endorse the services or opinions of Peter Dunn or USA Today. This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. This information is not intended as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security referred to herein. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.

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