How Much Income Can You Expect to Receive From Safe Investments?

A Historical Perspective on Safe Returns

Chart of retirement investments
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The idea behind retirement savings is to accumulate as much money as possible with the least amount of risk. It's difficult to calculate an expected rate of return, however, because it depends on the year.

There's a price to be paid for safety in a low-interest-rate environment. If you want to guarantee your principal and you want a guaranteed return, you should expect your return to be low. If a three-month CD is paying a 1.5% annual percentage yield (APY), that means you'd earn only $1,500 annually for every $100,000 you invest.  

What about locking your money up for a longer period of time? You might be able to get a 3.5% guaranteed rate on a 10-year fixed annuity, but you'd face hefty surrender charges if you cashed it in before the 10 years elapses. 

Historical Safe Investment Returns

safe investment such as a certificate of deposit yielded 17.2% in 1981. This means you would have received $17,200 in interest income for every $100,000 you invested. But that same product yielded just 2.18% in 2003, or $2,180 of interest income per year for every $100,000 invested.

If you retired in 2003 and you had invested only in safe, interest-bearing accounts earning between 2% and 3%, you would have found it difficult to maintain your standard of living post-retirement. Inflation would have caused prices to rise while your investment income would have steadily declined.

You can compare the returns on safe investments to the historical returns on stocks by looking at how the S&P 500 index has performed over the years. The returns have been higher with stocks, but only if you stayed invested throughout the ups and downs.

Retirement Planning With Low Interest Rates

Look for ways to combine various types of retirement investments, both safe ones and riskier ones, in a way that can deliver the cash flow you need if you're planning for retirement during a period of low interest rates. Most retirees will have to plan on gradually spending down some of their principal over their retirement years.

Start by making a retirement income plan—a timeline that shows what you have and what you'll need in future years. You then can see if your savings are large enough to cover the gap after you have this outlined, even if it shows a low return.

For example, create a spreadsheet that begins with your first year of retirement and the total amount of your investments. For each year, calculate a new annual balance by adding your expected investment returns and subtracting your expected expenses.

Safe Investment Returns

CD rates have improved slightly since an 8-year stretch with average annual returns less than 1% for 3-month CDs ended in 2016. Returns increased to 1.15 in 2017, then to 2.19 in 2018, the last full year of data available, as of January 2020. Such rates of return still are not enough for investors to expect their money to outpace inflation.

Historical 1-Year CD Returns
Year Return Annual Income Per $100k
2000 6.46% $6,460
2001 3.69% $3,690
2002 1.73% $1,730
2003 1.15% $1,150
2004 1.56% $1,560
2005 3.51% $3,510
2006 5.15% $5,150
2007 5.27% $5,270
2008 2.97% $2,970
2009 0.56% $560
2010 0.31% $310
2011 0.30% $300
2012 0.28% $280
2013 0.17% $170
2014 0.12% $120
2015 0.23% $230
2016 0.64% $640
2017 1.15% $1,150
2018 2.19% $2,190

Article Sources

  1. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Research. "90-day Rates and Yields: Certificates of Deposit for the United States," access Jan. 5, 2020.