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. Retirement

    5 Reasons to Leave Retirement Planning to Your Wife

    Wives live longer than their husbands, so their retirement stakes are higher. Luckily, certain qualities make women especially good at long-term planning
  9. Retirement

    Top 4 Retirement Cities in Uruguay

    With options from a cosmopolitan capital to a South American St. Tropez, the livin' is easy for expats in this coastal neighbor of Argentina and Brazil.
  10. Retirement

    6 Ways to Give Back After Retirement

    Discover the various ways that retired individuals can give back, donating their time, skills and money while still maintaining a comfortable retirement.
  1. How safe are variable annuities?

    Life insurance companies are facing a challenging environment. Those that sell variable annuities have been able to mitigate ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Are estate distributions taxable?

    In general, most estate distributions are not subject to income tax. In some cases, however, a distribution from an estate ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the annual contribution limit for a 529A account?

    Contributions to a 529A plan are limited up to the annual gift tax exclusion limit, currently $14,000 a year in after-tax ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What happens to a 529A account when the beneficiary dies?

    According to the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE Act), when the designated beneficiary of a 529A account ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Can you have more than one 529A account?

    According to the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE Act), a disabled person can generally set up only one ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the size of the average retirement nest egg?

    According to a 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, people between the ages of 55 and 64 with any retirement ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Ex Works (EXW)

    An international trade term requiring the seller to make goods ready for pickup at his or her own place of business. All ...
  2. Letter of Intent - LOI

    A document outlining the terms of an agreement before it is finalized. LOIs are usually not legally binding in their entirety. ...
  3. Purchasing Power

    The value of a currency expressed in terms of the amount of goods or services that one unit of money can buy. Purchasing ...
  4. Real Estate Investment Trust - REIT

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through property or mortgages and often trades on major exchanges ...
  5. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  6. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!