How and when should I move to a safer retirement portfolio? (2023)

I'm in my early 50s and plan to retire a little before I hit age 60. My savings are now invested in a combination of stock mutual funds and company stock. When and how should I start allocating to a safer portfolio?—R.A.

Whether you're simply being prudent by doing some advance planning or you're concerned that the recent market volatility is a prelude to an imminent crash, you're right to start thinking about how to transition your portfolio to a more conservative stance well before you actually retire.

After all, investing heavily in stocks may be okay when you're younger and more willing to take more risk for higher returns since you have plenty of time to rebound from market setbacks. But an overly aggressive investing strategy that leaves you vulnerable to severe market downturns as you near the end of your career can be dangerous.

A big drop in the value of your nest egg just prior to or soon after retiring can dramatically reduce the chances that your savings will be able to support you throughout a long retirement. The reason is that the combination of outsize investment losses plus withdrawals from your savings for retirement income can so deplete your portfolio's value that it may not be able to recover sufficiently even after stock prices begin rising again.

Unfortunately, whether due to complacency, failure to comprehend the risk they're taking or some other reason, many people fail to dial back their stock holdings as they enter the home stretch to retirement. For example, an Employee Benefit Research Institute report found that prior to the financial crisis, when stock prices plummeted nearly 60%, more than 40% of 401(k) participants between the ages of 56 and 65 had over 70% of their account in stocks and nearly 25% had more than 90% in equities.

So how can you get adequate protection against market setbacks while also providing enough long-term growth potential so your savings will be able to sustain you throughout a retirement that, given today's long lifespans, could last 30 or more years (or in your case even longer)?

Related: Is it really necessary to pay a financial adviser?

Start by settling at a mix of stocks and bonds that's appropriate given your circumstances today. There's no single stocks-bonds allocation that's correct for everyone of a given age. But it's fair to say that for someone in his 50s who's hoping to retire in 10 or so years, a 100% stocks portfolio is pushing it. So I urge you to re-think how much risk you want to be taking as you close in on your planned retirement date.

One way to arrive at a blend of stocks and bonds that makes sense for you is to consult a tool like this asset allocation-risk tolerance questionnaire. The tool not only recommends an appropriate mix of stocks and bonds, but also shows you how that mix as well as others have performed on average in the past as well as in up and down markets.

You don't necessarily have to adopt this mix exactly. You could decide to opt for more stocks on the rationale that, since you plan to retire early, you'll need more robust returns to sustain your portfolio through what will likely be a longer-than-normal retirement. Or you could lighten up on stocks, figuring you don't want to run the risk of a big setback early in retirement that could shorten the longevity of your portfolio. As a general guide, though, a stock stake of somewhere between 65% and 75% of assets would generally be considered reasonable for investors in their early to mid-50s.

Whatever mix of stocks and bonds you settle on, you next want to think about what you'd like your stocks-bonds allocation to be when you actually retire. The mix that makes sense for you as you enter retirement will depend on a number of factors, including how comfortable you are seeing your nest egg's value bounce around in response to market fluctuations, how likely your nest egg is to last given the size of the withdrawals you plan on taking, what other resources (Social Security, pensions, home equity, annuity income, etc.) you have to fall back on should your pot of savings start running low. As a practical matter, however, many people enter retirement with somewhere between 40% and 60% of their savings in stocks.

Once you have that target retirement allocation, you can then think about creating a "glide path" that gets you from your current stocks-bonds mix to the one you would like to have at retirement. So, just as an example, someone who's 50, has decided to invest 70% of his savings in stocks today and plans to retire in 10 years with 60% of his nest egg in stocks, might reduce his stock holdings to 65% by age 55 and then to 60% by age 60.

That's not to say you've got to stick to a strict schedule of reducing the stocks percentage of your portfolio by precisely one percentage point a year. But the idea is to gradually shift to a more conservative portfolio, so you don't find yourself with such a large exposure to stocks as you enter retirement that a market downturn would require you to dramatically scale back your retirement plans or even force you to postpone retirement altogether.

Related: Should I follow Warren Buffett's 90/10 investing strategy?

You don't have to decide this now, but at some point prior to retirement you'll also want to think about whether to continue to reduce your stock holdings during retirement and, if so, the extent to which you'll want to do that. The rationale for continuing to reduce stocks as a percentage of your holdings even after you retire is that, as you age, you may become increasingly anxious at seeing your nest egg lose value during periods of market turbulence. Still, you'll want to keep at least some portion of your savings in stocks throughout retirement, if only to help maintain the purchasing power of your savings should you live well beyond life expectancy.

You can get a sense of what sort of glide path might be right for you by seeing how the target-date retirement funds of companies like Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and Vanguard gradually wind down their stock holdings in the years leading up to, and then during, retirement. In fact, you could simply mimic the glide path of such funds or, for that matter, invest your retirement savings in a target-date fund with a date that matches or comes close to the year you plan to retire.

Finally, you mention that your nest egg includes shares of your employer's stock (which, lest there be any doubt, should definitely count as part of your equity holdings). I'm not a fan of investing one's retirement savings in company stock. Shares of a single company—whether your employer's or not—tend to be more volatile than a diversified portfolio, which means your portfolio could be much riskier than it would otherwise be if you've got a good portion of your savings in company stock.

Besides, your financial fortunes are already tied to those of your company because your income depends on your employer. So why increase your exposure by having your portfolio's health dependent on the company as well? For those reasons, I generally think it's a good idea to avoid investing in company stock for retirement or at least limit it to no more than 10% or so of your nest egg.

That said, you could qualify for a potentially lucrative tax break on company shares held within a 401(k), particularly if those shares have appreciated substantially in value over the years (although taking advantage of that break can get complicated). So if you already own a significant amount of company stock in your 401(k), you might want to consult a financial adviser who can evaluate the risk vs. reward of holding onto those shares and, if appropriate, help you come up with a plan for distributing and eventually selling them in a way that will minimize the tax hit.

CNNMoney (New York) First published March 7, 2018: 10:15 AM ET


When should I move to safer investments? ›

In general, the shorter your investment horizon (i.e., the sooner you need the money) the less risky you want your investments to be. If your horizon is longer than 10 years, relatively higher-risk investments that offer the potential for higher returns, such as stocks, may be a consideration.

What is a good asset allocation for a 70 year old? ›

For most retirees, investment advisors recommend low-risk asset allocations around the following proportions: Age 65 – 70: 40% – 50% of your portfolio. Age 70 – 75: 50% – 60% of your portfolio. Age 75+: 60% – 70% of your portfolio, with an emphasis on cash-like products like certificates of deposit.

How should I allocate my retirement portfolio? ›

Some financial advisors recommend a mix of 60% stocks, 35% fixed income, and 5% cash when an investor is in their 60s. So, at age 55, and if you're still working and investing, you might consider that allocation or something with even more growth potential.

How do you know when you have saved enough for retirement? ›

To determine just how much you will need to save to generate the income that you need, one easy-to-use formula is to divide your desired annual retirement income by 4%, which is known as the 4% rule. For an income of $80,000, you would need a retirement nest egg of about $2 million ($80,000 /0.04).

What should an 80 year old asset allocation be? ›

At age 60–69, consider a moderate portfolio (60% stock, 35% bonds, 5% cash/cash investments); 70–79, moderately conservative (40% stock, 50% bonds, 10% cash/cash investments); 80 and above, conservative (20% stock, 50% bonds, 30% cash/cash investments).

What is the safest investment with the highest return? ›

  1. 9 Safe Investments With High Returns. Here are the nine best safe investments with high returns: ...
  2. High-Yield Savings Accounts. ...
  3. Certificates of Deposit. ...
  4. Money Market Accounts. ...
  5. Treasury Bonds. ...
  6. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities. ...
  7. Municipal Bonds. ...
  8. Corporate Bonds.
Jul 13, 2023

What should a 70 year old portfolio look like? ›

Indeed, a good mix of equities (yes, even at age 70), bonds and cash can help you achieve long-term success, pros say. One rough rule of thumb is that the percentage of your money invested in stocks should equal 110 minus your age, which in your case would be 40%. The rest should be in bonds and cash.

Where is the safest place to put your retirement money? ›

Experts: 7 Safest Places To Keep Your Retirement Savings
  • FDIC-Insured High Yield Savings Account. ...
  • Fixed Annuities. ...
  • US Treasury Securities. ...
  • Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plan. ...
  • Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) ...
  • Money Market Accounts. ...
  • Low-Cost Index Funds.
Mar 31, 2023

Should an 80 year old invest in the stock market? ›

As people get older, they generally become more risk-averse. This is understandable, as seniors have less time to recover from financial losses than younger people. For this reason, our advice to seniors is that they should only invest in stocks if they can afford to lose money.

What is a good return on a retirement portfolio? ›

Generating sufficient retirement income means planning ahead of time but being able to adapt to evolving circumstances. As a result, keeping a realistic rate of return in mind can help you aim for a defined target. Many consider a conservative rate of return in retirement 10% or less because of historical returns.

What is the average 401k return in 2023? ›

Average annual 401(k) return: 4.9%

Many variables determine a 401(k)'s return, including the investments you choose, stock market performance and 401(k) fees.

How much cash should a retiree have in their portfolio? ›

“The worst thing you want to do is sell your wonderful investments while they are at bargain-basement prices,” said Lineberger. Bradbury suggests retirees keep 12 months to 24 months of living expenses in cash. However, the amount may depend on monthly costs and other sources of income.

What is a good monthly retirement income? ›

The average monthly retirement income adjusted for inflation in 2023 is $4,381.25, according to a 2022 U.S. Census Bureau report. The average annual income for adults 65 and older in 2023 is $75,254 – or $83,085 when adjusted for inflation.

How much do I need to retire if my house is paid off? ›

One rule of thumb is that you'll need 70% of your pre-retirement yearly salary to live comfortably. That might be enough if you've paid off your mortgage and are in excellent health when you kiss the office good-bye.

Is $5000 a month good for retirement? ›

Those who haven't retired yet estimated they will need $4,940 per month, on average, to retire comfortably. Millennials anticipated needing a little more, $5,135 per month, and people closing in on retirement between the ages of 60 and 65 said they required a little less: $4,855.

Is it better to save or invest right now time? ›

How much to put toward savings versus investing depends on your current needs and your future goals. If you're unable to cover three to six months' worth of expenses with savings, it's best to prioritize that before beginning to invest for long-term goals like retirement.

Is now a good time to start a 401k? ›

On the heels of an already bad year, retirement 401(k) account balances have taken a significant hit, but that makes this the best time to invest, one expert says. Down markets are ideal for dollar cost averaging, according to Louis Barajas, a member of CNBC's Advisor Council.

What is the 90 10 rule in investing? ›

What Is the 90/10 Strategy? Legendary investor Warren Buffett invented the “90/10" investing strategy for the investment of retirement savings. The method involves deploying 90% of one's investment capital into stock-based index funds while allocating the remaining 10% of money toward lower-risk investments. 1.

Where can I put money in 2023? ›

10 best investments in 2023
  • High-yield savings accounts.
  • Short-term certificates of deposit.
  • Series I bonds.
  • Short-term corporate bond funds.
  • Dividend stock funds.
  • Value stock funds.
  • REIT index funds.
  • S&P 500 index funds.
Aug 1, 2023

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