How much wealth do I need in my ISA versus my SIPP to achieve financial independence? post image

This is part three of a series on how to maximise your ISAs and SIPPs to achieve financial independence. Part two explained why the tax advantages of personal pensions make them superior to ISAs later in life. Be sure to also read the first part of the series.

To make the most tax efficient use of your savings, your ISAs need only fund the years between early retirement and your minimum pension age.

Obviously it’d be marvellous if our ISAs piped hot income streams into our lives long after that, but our primary concern is to fund them so we’re unlikely to run out of money before our personal pensions take over.

That’s because there’s no point oversaving into our ISAs, either. That would see you delay financial independence by paying tax that would have instead been clawed back through pension tax relief and added to your growing nest egg.

The ISA/pension balancing act

Should investment returns turn out to be poor, we would expect our ISAs to be running on empty as we dock with our SIPPs.1

We would then discard the ISAs like empty booster rockets and ride on using our SIPPs, and eventually a State Pension slingshot.

To put that plainly:

Phase 1 – You need to be able to draw all your income needs from your ISA / taxable accounts without fear of running out of money,2 until you reach the minimum pension age.

Phase 2 – You need to be able to draw all your income needs from your personal pension, once you can access it, without fear of running out of money until you die.

Lifeboat – It’s quite likely the State Pension will provide some support later in life. The lower your income, the older you are, and/or the sketchier your plan, the more important the State Pension becomes.

We’ll construct the plan so the State Pension is primarily a back-up, but we’ll draw upon research that shows how you can adjust your plan to account for it.

How much income and for how long?

How much annual income do you need in retirement? And how many years do you need it to last?

These are the big two questions to answer for each phase of our plan.

Guesstimating your required retirement income is not so hard, especially if you already track your expenses.

Let’s say you’ve decided you’ll need £25,000 per year for the rest of your life. (We’ll assume all calculations are in real terms, so we’re accounting for inflation.)

How much wealth do you need in your ISA to sustain £25,000 in annual income?

It depends on how long you need that income to last (Phase 1) before your pension income becomes available (Phase 2).

There are two basic ways to fund your Phase 1 pre-pension, post-retirement income:

1. The usual sustainable withdrawal rate (SWR) approach – a portfolio of mixed assets in your ISA that you ‘create’ an income from by selling a planned proportion each year.

2. Liability matching – a big pot of cash or bonds3 that won’t grow much or at all after-inflation, but that starts out big enough to take your desired income from each year until you can crack open your pension.

Let’s look at both in turn.

Method #1: Drawing down an ISA portfolio

The infamous 4% rule says we need to build wealth that’s worth 25 times our annual income requirement to become financially independent.

25 times your assets comes from: 1 / 4 x 100 = 25

£25,000 x 25 = £625,000

So we need £625,000 to take an annual, inflation-adjusted income of £25,000 at a 4% sustainable withdrawal rate (SWR).

But the 4% rule applies specifically to 30 year time frames.

What if you only need your ISA to last ten or 20 years until your personal pension comes on stream?

Then your sustainable withdrawal rate (SWR) can be higher.

Let’s say you can use an 8% SWR to sustain spending from your ISA for ten years.

We can save much less into our ISA in that scenario:

1 / 8 x 100 = 12.5

£25,000 x 12.5 = £312,500

Now we only need ISA wealth of approx £312,500 to draw an income of £25,000 for ten years. After that, we will look to rely on our personal pension income, if our ISA is exhausted.

Bear in mind that a SWR calculates the maximum amount you can take from your portfolio without running out of money, based on historical returns data. (Terms and conditions apply.)

In most scenarios, you actually end up with a healthy surplus in your account when you use an appropriate SWR, even if your retirement was blighted by economic times of darkness such as the Great Depression, Stagflation, and the World Wars (provided you were on the winning side).

Nonetheless, we want a plan that minimises the chances of being forced back to work against our will.

We’ll therefore use cautious SWRs throughout this series that suit our possible timeframes – no matter if we need our tax shelters to last ten years or 50.

Method #2: Liability matching

The safest way to fund your retirement is to match your future expenses (liabilities) with a treasure chest of near risk-less, guaranteed income.

A ladder of inflation-linked bonds would be ideal.

In the ISA example above, a tranche of your bonds would mature every year, depositing £25,000 of inflation-adjusted income into your account for each of the ten years until you can access your pension.

Alternatively, you could save up enough cash to cover the ten years, remembering to factor in an allowance for inflation.

Liability matching with low risk assets generally requires more capital than investing in an equity heavy portfolio. The more resources you have, the less growth you need, and the less risk you need to take. It’s a trade-off.

My assumptions suggest that it’s likely quicker and safer for everybody to save cash4 to bridge an eight-year gap or shorter, between Phase 1 and Phase 2.

I’ll go into more detail on this later in the series.

Minimum pension age

Our ISAs need to span the gap between our early retirement age and our minimum pension age – the latter being when we can officially smash open our defined contribution pensions like piñatas.

Which will be when exactly?

Unbelievably – ahem – that’s not so easy to pin down.

Currently you can get into your defined contribution personal pension from age 55.

But the 2014 Coalition Government (remember them?) indicated that the minimum pension age would rise to 57 in 2028. Your minimum age would then be set to ten years before your State Pension age, from then on.

Thing is, they didn’t get around to legislating the minimum pension age change. So it’s not yet law. And then Brexit happened. Eyes were taken off the ball. Now no one knows what’s going on.

We don’t know whether the rise in the minimum age will take place as mooted. But many industry insiders say the change is still coming and can be legislated whenever the government likes, so it’s best to assume the worst.

If you were born in 1972, you will be 55 in 2027, so you should be fine, right? You can tap your pension in 2027 before the minimum age hikes to 57 in 2028.

Not so fast. There has been talk of tapering the change in. It could be you’re still caught out, even if you’re 55 a few years before 2028.

It’s a mess.

We’ll play it safe by assuming that our minimum pension age is set to ten years before our State Pension age for the purposes of the upcoming and unbelievably exciting case studies we’ve got planned for this series.

These case studies will also show how to calculate how long your ISAs will need to last (roughly), given your current circumstances.

How long will your personal pension need to last?

This is much easier. Assuming you go at it like Pooh Bear at a honey pot, starting between the ages of 55 and 60, then your personal pension should be funded to cover your income needs for 40 to 50 years – as a broad rule-of-thumb.

Read our posts on life expectancy and life expectancy for couples for the data and rationale on how long your personal pension ought to last, and to personalise your calculation.

Other income streams – So you’ve got other income streams like buy-to-let property and defined benefit pensions to tap into at the same time as your SIPP? Lovely. Just deduct those additional income streams from your assumed retirement income. Your SIPP will only need to cover the remainder. We’ll cover the State Pension and DB pensions that become available further down the track at a later point in the series.

Carrying on the £25,000 retirement income example, the wealth needed to sustain spending from your personal pension for over 40 years at a conservative 3% SWR is:

1 / 3 x 100 = 33.333

£25,000 x 33.333 = £833,325

Wowsers! That’s a tall order. £833,325 is needed to sustain an annual, inflation-adjusted income of £25,000 from your personal pension.

And it means the total amount of wealth you’ll need across your ISAs and personal pensions would be £1,145,825.

That compares to the £833,325 needed if you could just build all your wealth in a single tax shelter, and withdraw £25,000 per year at a 3% SWR for over 50 years.5

You can see why we’re flagging up this issue.

Thankfully the extra funds required to fund both ISAs and personal pensions are achievable for many of us, so long as you make good use of your tax advantages, and allow compounding to swell your pension like bread in an oven.

In the next post, we’ll cover how to choose a credible SWR for both ISAs and personal pensions – one that matches the timeframe you need them to last – and the implications that has for your asset allocation.

Take it steady,

The Accumulator

  1. Self Invested Personal Pensions.
  2. We mean without fear on a practicable level. Ultimately there is no absolute safety.
  3. We’re talking a ladder of individual bonds (not a fund) with staggered maturity dates. Each tranche of maturing bonds delivers a payload of capital to match your income needs per year you need to fund. Inflation-linked government bonds are best. A Purchase Life Annuity could also conceivably fit the bill.
  4. A lack of suitable bonds makes it hard to build an inflation-linked bond ladder in the UK.
  5. Over 40 years there’s no need to keep reducing your SWR as your actual time-retired increases to 50 or more years. The curve flattens out over longer periods, as the long-term returns of equities are less volatile. You’ll also have some kind of State Pension, there’s strong evidence we spend less in very old age, and, eventually, we die. All of which relieves the pressure on SWRs over the long-term, so there’s no need to keep reducing them – unless you think you’re going to discover the fountain of eternal youth.

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