What’s a Good Rate of Return?

Someone asked me this question recently while I was attending a community event. Some people ask questions like this when they find out what I do for a living. It’s always difficult to find an answer for a question like this. On the one hand, the person may be genuinely curious about how their retirement portfolio is doing compared to a benchmark (my opinion). On the other hand, what I want to say is not concise and not helpful.

It’s kind of un-fair for someone to ask this question and expect a coherent answer. I wonder if people ask a doctor how to replace a knee joint at a party? They probably do.

What I want to say is, “It depends.” As in, it depends on:

  • Your age,
  • When you plan to retire,
  • How much you’ll live on in retirement,
  • What other assets you have,
  • Your risk tolerance,
  • How much you have saved vs. how much you’ll need for retirement,
  • If you plan on working in retirement,
  • Your retirement goals, for example, is leaving a legacy important,
  • Your life expectancy,
  • If you’re married,
  • When you plan to start Social Security,
  • How much your Social Security payments will be.

But instead, I say something like, “Generally a 7% annual rate of return for a diversified portfolio without too much risk is about right.” Of course, it depends.

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