One of the most basic principles of investing is to gradually reduce your risk as you get older, since retirees don’t have the luxury of waiting for the market to bounce back after a dip. The dilemma is figuring out exactly how safe you should be relative to your stage in life.

For years, a commonly cited rule of thumb has helped simplify asset allocation. It states that individuals should hold a percentage of stocks equal to 100 minus their age. So, for a typical 60-year-old, 40% of the portfolio should be equities. The rest would be comprised of high-grade bonds, government debt and other relatively safe assets.

Two Reasons to Change the Rules

Pretty straightforward, right? Not necessarily. While an easy-to-remember guideline can help take some of the complexity out of retirement planning, it may be time to revisit this particular one. Over the past few decades, a lot has changed for the American investor. For one, the life expectancy here, as in many developed countries, has steadily risen. Compared to just 20 years ago, Americans live three years longer. Not only do we have to increase our nest eggs, we also have more time to grow our money and recover from a dip.

At the same time, U.S. Treasury bonds are paying a fraction of what they once did. Today, a 10-year T-bill yields roughly 2.5% annually. In the early 1980s, investors could count on interest rates upwards of 10%.

Revised Guidelines

For many investment pros, such realties mean that the old “100 minus your age” axiom puts investors in jeopardy of running low on funds during their later years. Some have modified the rule to 110 minus your age – or even 120 minus your age, for those with a higher tolerance for risk.

Not surprisingly, many fund companies follow these revised guidelines – or even more aggressive ones – when putting together their own target-date funds. For example, funds with a target date of 2030 are geared to investors who are currently around 49. But instead of allocating 50% of its assets to equities, the Vanguard Target Retirement 2030 Fund has roughly 76%. The T. Rowe Price Retirement 2030 Fund builds in even more risk, with almost 80% in equities.

It’s important to keep in mind that guidelines like this are just a starting point for making decisions. A variety of factors may shape investment strategy, including age at retirement and assets needed to sustain one’s lifestyle. Since women live nearly five years longer than men on average, they have higher costs in retirement than men and an incentive to be slightly more aggressive with their nest egg.

The Bottom Line

Basing one's stock allocation on age can be a useful tool for retirement planning by encouraging investors to slowly reduce risk over time. However, at a time when adults are living longer and getting fewer rewards from “safe” investments, it might be time to adjust the “100 minus your age” guideline and take more risk with retirement funds.

Related Articles
  1. Investing Basics

    Choose Your Own Asset Allocation Adventure

    There are many strategies to help balance your portfolio. Here are a few to get you started.
  2. Investing Basics

    Achieving Optimal Asset Allocation

    Minimizing risk while maximizing return is any investor's prime goal. The right mix of securities is the key to achieving your optimal asset allocation.
  3. Options & Futures

    6 Asset Allocation Strategies That Work

    Your portfolio's asset mix is a key factor in whether it's profitable. Find out how to get this delicate balance right.
  4. Investing Basics

    5 Things To Know About Asset Allocation

    Overwhelmed by investment options? Learn how to create an asset allocation strategy that works for you.
  5. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Shifting Focus To Sector Allocation

    Investing in sectors may trump international investments for providing diversification.
  6. Bonds & Fixed Income

    A Strategy For Optimal Stock And Bond Allocation

    We tell you how this strategy avoids downturns, improves performance and invests in the best asset classes.
  7. Bonds & Fixed Income

    Asset Allocation In A Bond Portfolio

    An investor's fixed-income portfolio can easily beat the average bond fund. Learn how and why!
  8. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The Top 4 Russell Funds for Retirement Diversification in 2016

    Discover four mutual funds administered and managed by Russell Investments that would add diversification benefits to a retirement portfolio.
  9. Budgeting

    Is Living in Europe Cheaper than in America?

    Learn how living in Europe has financial advantages over living in the United States. Discover the benefits to take advantage of when it makes financial sense.
  10. Retirement

    Top 5 Cities To Retire To In Croatia

    Cheaper than the Italian coast along the Adriatic Sea, but full of natural beauty, good food and active sports.
RELATED FAQS
  1. Am I losing the right to collect spousal Social Security benefits before I collect ...

    The short answer is yes, if you haven't reached age 62 by December 31, 2015. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 disrupted ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is the maximum I can receive from my Social Security retirement benefit?

    The maximum monthly Social Security benefit payment for a person retiring in 2016 at full retirement age is $2,639. However, ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Are target-date retirement funds good investments?

    The main benefit of target-date retirement funds is convenience. If you really don't want to bother with your retirement ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Where else can I save for retirement after I max out my Roth IRA?

    With uncertainty about the sustainability of Social Security benefits for future retirees, a lot of responsibility for saving ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Will quitting your job hurt your 401(k)?

    Quitting a job doesn't have to impact a 401(k) balance negatively. In fact, it may actually help in the long run. When leaving ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does my spousal Social Security benefit work?

    If you have never worked or paid Social Security taxes, you will not be eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
  2. Super Bowl Indicator

    An indicator based on the belief that a Super Bowl win for a team from the old AFL (AFC division) foretells a decline in ...
  3. Flight To Quality

    The action of investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles. This ...
  4. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
  5. Ponzimonium

    After Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme was revealed, many new (smaller-scale) Ponzi schemers became exposed. Ponzimonium ...
  6. Quarterly Earnings Report

    A quarterly filing made by public companies to report their performance. Included in earnings reports are items such as net ...
Trading Center