Investing is without question the best way for ordinary people to grow their wealth, and you'll probably need all the wealth you can accrue when it comes time for retirement. But after decades in which your financial focus was on the gathering, it can be tough to pivot to a spending mindset.
In this segment of the Motley Fool Answers mailbag episode, hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are joined by Buck Hartzell, the Fool's director of investor learning and operations, to offer advice to an investor looking ahead to retirement, and wondering which assets to tap first.
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.
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This video was recorded on April 30, 2019.
Alison Southwick: Tiger writes, "In retirement what should we spend first and what last? At present I am 5% REITs, 5% bonds, 10% cash, 25% stocks, and 55% mutual funds. I figure I will maintain that allocation until I finally retire, but I'm not sure what to tap first. My wild guess is cash first, taxable mutual funds second, non-taxable Roth third, and individual stocks with big capital gains last. Some I've held for more than 20 years."
Robert Brokamp: Cash should definitely be first because every retiree should have what we call an income cushion, which is the next three to five years' worth of portfolio-provided income out of the stock market. You rely on that every year, and then after you've spent that, as that year goes on, the next year you replenish it.
The next thing would be the types of accounts. We've mentioned before that several studies have found that when you're in retirement, your portfolio will last longer if you tap your taxable accounts first, then usually traditional accounts, and then Roth last. The Roth and traditional can be flipped in some situations, but basically drain your taxable accounts first.
I can't really answer you about the mutual funds because it depends on whether those funds are invested in cash, stocks, or bonds. Whether it's international or U.S. But I will say it definitely makes sense to evaluate your funds every year and if you have a fund that has been underperforming its peers for the last three to five years, that's definitely a candidate for where you could get some cash.
You mentioned the stocks that you've held for more than 20 years. Generally speaking, you don't want to hold onto a stock just because if you sell it there will be tax consequences if it's not a promising investment anymore. But I think what you're suggesting, or what could be a strategy is if that money eventually will be left to the next generation, it could make sense to hold onto that for a long time because when you pass on and your heirs get it, they get a stepped-up cost basis and they won't have to pay those capital gains.
The last thing I'll say, in terms of what to sell, is whatever will bring your portfolio back into balance. You have an asset allocation that you've decided is appropriate to you. After one, two, or three years that's going to change, depending on what has performed well and what has not. Generally speaking you sell what has performed well to bring your portfolio back into some sort of balance. These days that would be U.S. large-cap growth stocks. They have significantly outperformed most others, and if there's anything that has become overweight in your portfolio, it's probably that category.
Buck Hartzell: You didn't ask this, but to the extent you're gifting some of these things, cash always makes sense. That goes at its cost basis, but if you have something you've held for 20 years with a low cost basis as a stock, that's probably not the thing that you want to gift to your grandchildren because they're going to get the same cost basis.
Brokamp: It's better to just hold onto it and wait until you pass away. Or, if you donate to charity every year, donating highly appreciated stock is a great strategy.