High interest rates are good news for Americans eyeing retirement

A quick read of the tea leaves suggests that interest rates will stay higher for longer in 2024.

Those nearing retirement need to factor that into their investment decisions and even the bigger picture: Does “higher for longer” make this a good time to retire — or is it a reason to delay?

The Fed next meets on March 19-20, but few economists expect the announcement of lower interest rates. The Fed’s June meeting is a more likely time for the first rate cut, but that timeline could be pushed back further if inflation stays steeper than desired.

For now, the key interest rate remains steady in a range of 5.25% to 5.5%, a 22-year high — a sweet spot for investors, particularly those on the cusp of retiring.

To explain what the interest rate hoopla might mean for that cohort, I talked to several wealth management advisers to get their takeaway.

Read more: Retirement planning: A step-by-step guide

Lock in today’s high rates

Your first move: If you’ll need cash savings to finance living expenses when you retire, then it’s time to stockpile a chunk of cash in low-risk, fixed-income investments, such as Treasury securities and CDs. One easy way to do that is to lop off some of the profits from your equity holdings.

“Having a higher interest rate is helpful because you’ll receive more interest income with CDs and cash equivalents for emergency savings and a portion of your overall retirement asset allocation,” said Daniel Soo, an executive wealth management adviser at TIAA. “Especially if you’re more conservative by nature.”

Some certificates of deposit and high-yield savings accounts now offer rates of more than 5%. The most alluring CD rates — offered mainly through online banks — were recently around 5.5% for a one-year certificate.

This will act as your buffer during the initial years of your retirement. If the market slips, you won’t have to sell stocks at a loss to pay for your living expenses or get rattled by periodic gyrations.

Read more: CDs vs. Treasury bills: Maximizing your savings

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The primary factor in deciding to retire should be your financial readiness, including whether you have enough savings to support your desired lifestyle throughout retirement,” said Leo Chubinishvili, a certified financial planner. (Getty Creative) (ImagineGolf via Getty Images)

‘Decision to retire goes well beyond rates’

Don’t let this be the sole sign that it’s time to retire.

“There are many factors to consider when deciding when to retire,” Nick Nefouse, head of retirement solutions at BlackRock, told Yahoo Finance. “It’s important to consider what your overall financial situation will be in retirement, including savings, expenses, and sources of income, including Social Security benefits.”

There’s lots of agreement on this.

“Retirement decisions should not hinge solely on the economic or market environment,” Leo Chubinishvili, a certified financial planner at Access Wealth in Roseland, N.J., told Yahoo Finance.

“The primary factor in deciding to retire should be your financial readiness, including whether you have enough savings to support your desired lifestyle throughout retirement,” he said. “A well-structured retirement plan should be flexible enough to adapt to both high and low-interest rate environments, as well as varying market conditions.”

Lorna Sabbia, head of retirement and personal wealth solutions at Bank of America, added: “Comfort level with anticipated expenses versus accumulated balances is at the core of most people’s timing when it comes to retirement.”

Higher rates = more choices

What higher interest rates do provide is more investment choices.

“If interest rates remain higher for longer, investments such as bonds, annuities, and money market accounts may offer higher returns. So if you’re nearing retirement, it may be a good idea to review your retirement portfolio and consider rebalancing to take advantage of higher interest rates,” Nefouse said.

Remember: The big picture of retirement still requires you to have a rate of return that exceeds inflation and the increases in the cost of living, Soo said.

“It might make sense to recalibrate now,” he said, “ensuring your retirement savings are in line with your risk tolerance by rebalancing your equities and extending your fixed income toward a bit more intermediate- or longer-maturity type bonds.”

And don’t cash in all your stocks yet.

“Higher interest rates in CDs and money markets must be weighed against the potential for long-term returns in equity and fixed income markets,” Sabbia said. “The need for equity investments when approaching retirement, as well as for those in retirement, is still there, especially when you consider longevity.”

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As long as the Fed keeps interest rates high, investing short-term money in T-bills has a certain drama-free appeal with modest returns and tax savings. (Getty Creative) (JTSorrell via Getty Images)

T-bills for savers

Another benefit of the Fed holding the higher interest rate steady is that all savers looking for a safe investment for a year or less can now get the best yields in ages from Treasury bills, or T-bills, short-term securities issued by the federal government. On March 7, a one-year T-bill was yielding 4.93% and a six-month T-bill was at 5.34%. The three-month T-bill was yielding 5.24% on March 6.

And as long as the Fed keeps interest rates high — which seems likely for now, investing short-term money in T-bills offers modest returns along with tax savings. Treasury bills — like I bonds and Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS — are issued and backed by the US government. Plus, you can pluck tax savings on T-bills, which are exempt from state and local income tax.

“T-bill yields remain higher than most online savings accounts and short-term CD yields,” Ken Tumin, senior industry analyst at Lending Tree and founder of DepositAccounts.com, told Yahoo Finance.

How T-bills work

T-bills are sold at a discount to their face value; when the bill matures, your interest is the difference between what you paid and the T-bill’s face value. For example, if you bought a $1,000, one-year T-bill at a rate of 4%, you would shell out $960 upfront and receive $1,000 at the end of the year.

You must buy on auction dates, which occur weekly for all maturities, except the one-year T-bill, which is set for every four weeks. Most individual investors make a noncompetitive bid, which means you land the average yield set at auction.

You won’t pay a penalty or fee if you want to pop out early like you would if you withdrew from a CD early. However, you could lose money if the sale price of the T-bill is lower than the original purchase price, which you are guaranteed at maturity.

You can buy newly issued Treasurys in terms ranging from four weeks to 52 weeks through your bank or brokerage, which may charge a commission. You can also buy them online for a minimum of $100 through the government’s TreasuryDirect program, with no commission. When you buy through TreasuryDirect — the government’s website — you must hold new Treasury marketable securities for at least 45 calendar days before transferring or selling them (even if it’s a four-week security). Interest is paid when the security reaches maturity. Large firms, however, such as Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and Vanguard, do not charge a fee when you buy a T-bill.

Lock in, then decide

If you’re thinking about retiring but not quite ready to say when, you can make some of these fixed-income purchases and step back for a bit as you navigate your retirement options.

The key question to ask:

“How can I take some of the gains on my equities from the past year and lock in at these attractive rates for the fixed income portion of my portfolio,” Lazetta Rainey Braxton, a financial planner and founder of Lazetta & Associates, told Yahoo Finance. “That’s all you need to do right now, and it really depends on what situation you find yourself in and what makes the most sense for you.

“You can think about when you’re going to retire later.”

Kerry Hannon is a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance. She is a career and retirement strategist, and the author of 14 books, including “In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in The New World of Work” and “Never Too Old To Get Rich.” Follow her on X @kerryhannon.

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