How Long Will My 401(k) Last in Retirement?

Calculating how long your 401(k) will last in retirement is an essential step to building and maintaining a savings plan that will allow you to live comfortably once you’re no longer working. To perform this calculation, input your savings amount, investment returns, and expected annual expenses into a retirement savings calculator, or speak with a financial advisor.

Key Takeaways

  • Factors such as savings amount, investment returns, and withdrawal rate significantly impact the duration of a 401(k) in retirement.
  • Various methods and tools, including online calculators and financial advisors, can help calculate how long a 401(k) will last.
  • Withdrawal strategies like systematic withdrawals, annuities, and the 4% rule can influence the duration of a 401(k).
  • Maximizing the duration of a 401(k) involves increasing savings, optimizing investments, and considering additional sources of income.

Factors Affecting 401(k) Duration

The duration of your 401(k) will be significantly impacted by the amount of money you saved during your working years. Financial advisors generally recommend setting aside between 10% and 20% of your salary for retirement.

Employer-sponsored traditional 401(k)s allow savers to invest a portion of their paycheck on a tax-deferred basis, and many employers match all or part of each dollar you contribute. For example, an employer may match 50 cents on the dollar on up to 6% of your salary, or match 100% up to 3% of your compensation.

You may invest in another type of 401(k), such as a Roth 401(k) or a SIMPLE 401(k), which come with different tax advantages. In 2024, employees and employers can contribute up to a combined $69,000 in a 401(k), or $76,500 including catch-up contributions for employees age 50 or older who are nearing retirement.

In addition to saving for your future in a 401(k), you can invest via a tax-advantaged individual retirement account (IRA) or Roth IRA. The more you save, the longer your funds will last in retirement.

When you save money in your 401(k), it doesn’t just sit idly. That money is invested in financial assets like stocks and bonds, and the return on those investments will also impact how long your 401(k) will last. The better markets perform, the higher your 401(k) balance will be. While it’s impossible to know exactly how markets will behave, the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index, which tracks the performance of 500 of the leading public U.S. companies, averaged a 9.90% annualized return between its inception in 1928 and the end of 2023.

Finally, the rate at which you withdraw from your 401(k) will affect its duration. The less that you withdraw from your retirement account each year, the longer your money will last. Several factors will impact your withdrawal rate, including your expenses and whether or not you have other sources of income, such as Social Security, a pension, or other investment and savings accounts. You may need to adjust your rate of withdrawal based on inflation.

How to Calculate 401(k) Duration

To calculate your 401(k)’s duration, you will need to know how much you have in savings, the average annual return of that savings, how much and how often you plan to withdraw from your 401(k), and your tax bracket. You will also need information on how much money you’ll receive from your other sources of income.

Once you’ve collected this information, use a retirement savings calculator to determine how long your savings will last. Many banks and insurance companies provide these calculators online, including Mutual of Omaha.

If you want more hands-on help or have a complicated financial situation, it may be best to speak with a financial advisor who can help you with this calculation.

How to Make Your 401(k) Last Longer

If you want to make your 401(k) last longer, consider making systematic withdrawals, which involves choosing a fixed amount of money to withdraw regularly, such as monthly, quarterly or annually. Most types of investments will allow you to make systematic withdrawals. Keep in mind that you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your 401(k) once you turn age 73.

A general rule of thumb is that retirees should spend no more than 4% of their retirement savings each year. While the 4% rule is a good starting place, it’s important to choose a withdrawal strategy that works for you and is adjusted based on inflation. Whether you use the 4% rule or not, the less you withdraw, the longer your retirement will last.

Another way to increase the duration of your 401(k) is to optimize your investment allocation. A well-balanced portfolio will have a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash, all of which come with different levels of risk. Financial advisors typically recommend shifting your portfolio from riskier assets like stocks to less risky assets like bonds and cash over time. In doing so, you’ll lower the risk of having to sell stocks when the stock market has dipped.

Finally, you can make your 401(k) last longer by supplementing your savings with additional sources of income, like annuities. An annuity is a contract typically sold by banks and insurance companies that requires the issuer to pay you a fixed or variable amount of money at regular intervals.

Social Security will likely be another source of your income in retirement. The longer you delay using this benefit (up to age 70), the higher your payments will be. Other potential sources of income include pensions, home equity, and reverse mortgages.

While some retirement savings plans offer annuities, you can also buy annuities separately to complement your 401(k) and ensure you’ll have an additional guaranteed income stream in retirement.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While it’s important to take the steps to make your 401(k) last longer if needed, you also want to be sure that you don’t make mistakes that could decrease the duration of your 401(k). Those mistakes include:

  • Overspending: Once you have a withdrawal plan for retirement, try to stick to it. If you plan to travel a lot or spend more money to eat out than you did while you were working, factor that into your retirement savings plan and spending strategy. Overspending beyond what you’ve planned for can lead to your 401(k) balance dwindling faster than you expected.
  • Taking early withdrawals: There is a 10% penalty for pulling money from your 401(k) before age 59½ (with some exceptions), which can significantly eat away at your savings.
  • Not adjusting for inflation: The prices of goods and services increase over time. If you don’t account for inflation when you calculate how much money you’ll need in retirement, you risk not being able to cover all your expenses.
  • Not diversifying your portfolio: Investing in a mix of different types of assets from various sectors helps reduce the chance of your whole portfolio plummeting at once and you having to sell at a loss.

How Much Should I Have in Savings by the Time I Retire?

The amount of money you should have in savings by the time you retire will depend on when you plan to retire and what you expect your retirement expenses to be. As a general guideline, Fidelity recommends savings ten times your salary by age 67.

When Do I Have to Start Saving for Retirement?

The sooner you save for retirement, the better. Ideally, you can start saving for retirement when you receive your first paycheck.

What is the Best Age to Start a 401(k)?

What is the Maximum Contribution to a 401(k)?

In 2024, you can contribute a maximum of $23,000 in your 401(k), plus an additional $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older. The maximum contribution for employees and employers combined is $69,000, or $76,500 for employees age 50 or older.

What are the Average Annual Expenses in Retirement?

As of 2022, the average annual household expenditures for retirees were $54,975, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Bottom Line

The duration of your 401(k) will depend on a number of factors, including how much you save, what assets you invest in, whether you have additional sources of income, the amount of your withdrawals, and how often you make withdrawals. You can help ensure the longevity of a 401(k) throughout retirement with proactive planning, including investing early and monitoring what changes need to be made to your retirement savings strategy.

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