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Why Not Use Dividend Stocks for Retirement Income?

Today we answer a viewer question about using dividend stocks to create retirement income.

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Our question from Ronald. He writes:

I am looking to retire soon and trying to determine the best way to generate retirement income with interest rates so low. Traditionally, you could have done this with treasuries or CDs. Why wouldn’t buying dividend stocks paying 4% to 5% makes sense? In addition to the dividends, you have the opportunity for appreciation.

The Challenge of Low Interest Rates

Ron makes a couple of good points. Interest rates are ridiculously low right now. Traditional methods of using bonds or CD’s to generate income are a challenge. Ten-year Treasuries are yielding about 1%. Thirty-year Treasuries yield about 1.8%. CDs, unless you lock those up for a few years, are going to be well below 1%. Using these interest-bearing investments to create retirement income is very difficult.

Using Dividend Stocks For Retirement Income

Why can’t you use a portfolio of dividend-paying stocks to create that income? You can, and there are some benefits. The dividend income is more than you would earn on a lot of fixed-income investments. You also have the opportunity for capital appreciation. Many of these companies will increase their dividends over time. And there are some tax advantages.

The Challenges

1. Volatility

But there are significant challenges to doing this. The first one is volatility. Companies who pay good dividends will decrease in value. You are going to see periods where your account drops 20%-30%. You must be able to withstand those periods, and not sell something at an inopportune time.

2. Portfolio Construction

The next challenge you have is how you build your portfolio. You want to make sure you have diversification across different industries. You want to make sure you are picking good companies.

Oil companies provide a great example of why you should diversify. When oil prices went down last year, many oil companies saw their share prices decrease. Many of them also decreased their dividend. Investing too much in one industry could impact your ability to maintain your income.

Stock selection is also important. Look for companies that have good earnings as well as a decent payout ratio. (The payout ratio is how much of the earnings are being paid out as dividends.) If a company is paying more in dividends than they earn, it could be a problem down the road.

You also want to look at their dividend history. Has the company been able to maintain their dividend over time? Have they been able to increase their dividend over time? Or have they had periods where they cut the dividend? When you depend on that income, the last thing you want to see is your income cut.

You want to be cautious of owning too few companies. When you own too many shares of one company, bad news could hurt your account.

3. What if You Need Extra Income?

You may find you need extra income. This can also be a challenge. You can sell positions that have appreciated in value. But when you sell those shares, your future dividend income is going to decrease. It can create a problem if you do need extra income. One of the ways to address that challenge is to have a bigger emergency fund on hand. When you need extra income, use your emergency fund and not disrupt your regular income flow.

Tax Advantages for Using Dividend Stocks to Create Retirement Income

This can be a tax-advantaged way to generate income in a non-IRA account. Qualified dividends receive preferential tax treatment. For most people, qualified dividends get taxed at 15%. It could be lower, depending on your total income. Other types of income are taxed at higher rates.

Qualified dividends come from common stocks of US companies and some international companies. When you build a portfolio of common stocks, you are going to be in a more tax-advantaged position.

Some higher-yielding investments pay dividends that are not qualified. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT’s), Master Limited Partnerships, and Business Development Companies pay good dividends. But those payments are not qualified. You can hold those, but you will not see the same tax benefits.

If you can handle all the challenges, using dividend stocks to create retirement income can be a good strategy. But it may not be easy.

Talk to a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional


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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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