CDs, Fixed Annuities, and Indexed Annuities Share Some Common Risks- copy

This time the unnamed beneficiary gets zero.

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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

The most common risk associated with all fixed-rate investments is interest rate risk.  If interest rates rise—and the fed has already sent some pretty strong signals higher rates are on the way—investors could be stuck with the old lower rates, especially  if the rate  hikes occur during the penalty period.

This may not be a huge issue with CDs most people tend to “ladder” shorter-term CDs .  Missing out on a half-point increase for six months is really an opportunity cost of 0.25%.  The bigger problem, of course, is the loss of purchasing power on an after-tax basis.

Fixed annuities tend to have surrender charges  with longer  time spans—and therefore have a larger interest rate risk exposure.   Penalty periods of five to ten years aren’t  uncommon.  Waiting several years through several potential rate increases can have a larger impact.    The longer surrender period usually does come with higher interest crediting rates, to be sure; but, it’s worth doing the math—it’s hard to get ‘sold’ on longer terms and accompanying surrender charges when the outlook for increases is unknown.  Given how long rates have been so low, a pendulum swing isn’t  hard to believe.  Remember, the insurance company’s annuity products purchased today will be backed by low-yielding bonds held today for most of the penalty period.

Fixed Indexed Annuities offer an opportunity for higher interest based on the performance of some outside index.  Despite the fact many people choose the S&P500 index as the calculation benchmark, these products are not investments in the stock market.  They are still insurance company IOUs paying a fixed rate—it’s just that the fixed rate paid each year is determined by the performance of the outside index; however,  they always come with some limiting factor—usually a ‘cap’ on the amount they’ll credit or crediting based on some sort of ‘spread’ factor.   Many professionals figure a fixed indexed annuity might actually return 1-2% more than it’s fixed-rate guarantee.   So, one that offers a fixed rate of 4% might be expected to provide a long-term return of 5-6%;  however, the return could be less.  It all depends on the performance of the external index chosen, so short-terms carry more risk than long term, if history is any indication.

Remember, too, that insurance companies can change their  crediting rates.  Nevertheless,  when you compare the expected  return of an FIA to a 5-year CD, it’s still a popular alternative, providing other factors meet with your needs.  Remember, however, longer-term products also mean longer-term  interest rate exposure, as noted above.

Premium Bonuses, too, may not be as good as they sound.  While they provide purchasing incentives, they virtually always result in lower crediting rates, further increasing interest rate risk.  It may be better to seek a shorter-term product without a bonus that allows you to move to a higher rate product sooner.  Why get stuck in a long-term contract?

Personal Take:   Generally, whatever you want to accomplish with an annuity might be better accomplished in another way, often with greater liquidity and sometimes even better benefits.  In any case, it pays to do your homework.   Just as all investments can’t be good, all annuities aren’t necessarily bad.  For many, the peace of mind knowing income is  protected is worth the trade-off.  Just remember, tax-deferred means tax postponed.  Do YOU know what tax rates will be when you plan to begin taxable withdrawals?   Neither do I.

Jim


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

 

 

 

 

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

How To Disinherit Your Unnamed Beneficiary

This time the unnamed beneficiary gets zero.

              Getty Images

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

In my last post, I revealed that virtually everyone with a 402(k), IRA, or even an annuity has an unnamed beneficiary who may get the lion’s share of the money you’ve worked so hard to get.  If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.

That post showed you how you could offset that inheritance and give more money to your kids.   This post will show you how you can disinherit this unnamed beneficiary altogether – at least from the above-mentioned accounts.

I used a hypothetical example of someone who had three kids living in a high tax state like California and a $600,000 IRA.   If the kids are two-income households and successful, they could be paying 40% to the state and federal governments for the money they end-up taking from the inherited IRA.

$600,000 divided by 3 kids = $200,000 per kid.  At 40%, each kid would be paying $80,000 in taxes, realizing $120,000 after tax.   The state and federal governments would therefore receive $80,000 x 3 kids = $240,000  –  this would be DOUBLE what each kid would end-up with!

What if you could disinherit the government altogether?

You guessed it:  There’s only ONE tool I’ve found that can do this, if combined with the right strategy.

In my last post, I talked about using a life insurance policy and the children using the tax-free death benefit to pay the taxes, keeping their IRA inheritance in-tact.  This time we do it differently.

Starting with the same $600,000 IRA, we purchase a $600,000 survivorship life insurance policy (it pays after the last of two spouses dies).  This time, however, instead of using the death benefit to pay the taxes, the death benefit goes to the children tax-free. 

The strategy: 

  1. Name a tax-exempt charity as beneficiary of your IRA.
  2. Purchase a life insurance policy for full estimated IRA value (we’ll use $600,000).
  3. At death, the charity receives the IRA proceeds tax-free.
  4. Your kids receive the $600,000 ($200,000 each) tax-free.
  5. The state and federal governments get zero.

Your kids received $80,000 more than the $120,000 they would have received, a 70% increase using our hypothetical tax bracket – that’s $240,000 went to them instead of the government, who got nothing.

How much did the life insurance cost?   That depends on the policy and the company, but I think it’s less than $240,000, ya think?

Jim


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

 

 

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Your IRA Has An Unnamed Beneficiary!

And, this one could end-up with the lion’s share of all you worked for.

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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

It’s one thing if you forget to name someone as a beneficiary – you have three kids and forgot to name one of them (oops!) – but, it’s even worse when someone you didn’t even name may end-up with the lion’s share of your retirement account!

Can’t happen?  Oh yes, it can.

Let’s assume you have a 401(k) or IRA valued at $600 000.   Who would you like to inherit it?  Chances are it’s your loved ones/kids.   So, why haven’t you given it to them already?  Simple:  You may need the money.   But, when you do pass away, your beneficiaries must include withdrawals in their taxable income.   It’s not uncommon for retirees to die sometime between ages 75 and 95… this is often the time the IRA passes to the next generation at or near their peak values.

Leaving timing and amounts aside, if you live in a high-tax state like California, the combination of other taxable income and withdrawals can easily put someone in a higher tax bracket.

Will assume the IRA is $600,000 and you have three successful kids.  It wouldn’t be unrealistic for a successful two-income family to end-up in a combined state and federal tax bracket of 40%

Here’s what each will end-up with:   $200,000 (1/3 of the IRA) less $80,000 (40% state and federal taxes) = $120,000.

Oh, yeah… your 4th kid:  Uncle Sam.   He received $80,000 x 3 kids = $240,000.  That’s THREE TIMES what each of your kids received!

Happy now?

How do we keep that extra $240,000 in your three kid’s pockets? You can use a tax-offset strategy.  It’s simple:  You transfer the risk.   Now, this isn’t something you can do with stocks, bonds, gold, or real estate.  There’s only one tool in the financial toolbox I know of that can do this.  

The strategy:  You purchase a $600,000 survivorship life insurance policy.  When the parents die, the children inherit the IRA.   They also each inherit 1/3 of the life insurance proceeds ($200,000) which, by the way, comes tax-free.  They can use the death benefit proceeds to pay the taxes they owe for inheriting the IRA.  They keep the entire IRA (each is now $80,000 richer) and your family has retained an additional $240,000.

Each received $200,000 instead of $120,000.   That’s a 70% increase!

They also now have choices.  Because taxes aren’t an issue, they could liquidate the IRA and invest the money where they’ll have complete liquidity and no future required minimum distributions or explore other options available to them.

Either way, they’re better off.   Thanks, mom and dad.


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Changes To Medicare Plans to Begin Soon!

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Beginning this January, Medigap plans will no longer cover the Part B deductible for those who are turning age 65.   Since the deductible is only $185, it won’t be a big deal for most people.

What’s worth noting is that Plan F – the plan that covered all of Part A and Part B, including deductibles – will no longer be sold to those turning age 65 beginning January 1, 2020.  Anyone who is 65 or older before that date can still apply for Plan F, but they may not want to.

Charles Paikert, writing in Financial Plannng’s September issue quoted insurance broker Stuart Millard who noted that even those who are already in Plan F, while not affected, may want to pay attention to this change.  Plan G, which is nearly identical to Plan F, is still available and older clients – and they may want to switch!   Why?  Sarah Caine, a specialist quoted in the same piece, points out that since Plan F is being discontinued, no new clients are coming in.  This means the pool of patients will diminish as people age out.  Since no new people will be replenishing the risk-sharing pool, it’s possible that Plan F may not be as stable as it once was.

For those who can afford it, Medigap plans may be appealing because they’re not restricted to doctors in a network or geographic location whereas Medicare Advantage plans may not be as beneficial for people who split their time between two homes or are active travelers.

Medicare health planning is a highly specialized field.  Too often people will simply shop online or deal with a jack-of-all-trades “financial advisor” who’s licensed to sell everything.  In addition, many people are unaware that there is income testing for Medicare, going back two years.  Those who have vested and restricted stocks, as well as those who are in COBRA plans may want to examine their situations carefully, including annual evaluation of their Part D prescription drug plan where prices change, as well as the offerings, each year.

Medicare has strict deadline rules, as well.  Miss a deadline and you can lose important rights, such as Medigap’s guaranteed issue right.

As I said, this is a highly specialized area and the services of an experienced insurance broker who is a health care specialist just might save you thousands of dollars.

Jim

Note:  The Independent Financial Group does not sell health insurance and Jim Lorenzen is not a health insurance broker.


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

I.R.S. RULING MIGHT CREATE TIMING ISSUES

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

On August 14th, the IRS ruled (Revenue Ruling 2019-19) that uncashed distribution checks from qualified retirement plans are taxable.

Oops!  That means that those requesting distributions, including RMDs should do it early enough in the calendar year to avoid any year-to-year carry-over confusion.   So, a distribution check issued in July, for example, will be taxed for that distribution in the year it is received, even if not cashed or rolled-over.

Those who leave companies and expect future distributions from their 401(k) from that company should update any change of address information – taxes, it appears, will be due on that money even if the check never reaches them.

Why did the IRS make this ruling?  According to retirement guru and CPA Ed Slott, the ruling was intended to address a question that has long been faced by retirement plan administrators – what are their withholding and reporting obligations when a check they issued goes uncashed?

So, the distribution is recorded in the year it’s distributed….  Good to know, huh?

Jim


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Getting Ready to Take a RMD? Here’s a 4-Point Checklist.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Remember the 1990s?  That was when every business channel had multiple programs with business gurus picking and ranking mutual funds.  It was a time when many mutual fund managers were becoming the ‘rock stars’ of financial meda.  Everyone wanted to know what Peter Lynch, Bill Gross, and others were buying, selling, and saying.

If you were one of those following all those shows back then, you were no doubt thinking about your financial future.  And, if you were born in the years following 1946, chances are you’re a ‘baby boomer’ – a term we’re all familiar with by now.

I read somewhere that there are 65,000 boomers turning age 65 every year!  And, those turning 70-1/2 have hit a big landmark:  It’s the year – actually it’s up until April 1st of the following year – Uncle Sam begins sticking his hand into your retirement account – after all, he is your partner; and, depending on your combined state and federal tax-bracket, his ownership share can be pretty significant, depending on the state you live in.  Yes, that’s when you must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs).

By the way, if you do wait until April 1st of the following year, you’ll have to take TWO distributions in that year – one for the year you turned 70-1/2 and one for the current year.  Naturally, taking two distributions could put you in a higher tax bracket; but, Uncle Sam won’t complain about that.

So, now that you’ve been advised of one trap that’s easy to fall into, what are some of the others?  You might want to give these concerns some thought – worth discussing with your tax advisor, as well as your financial advisor.

  1. Not all retirement accounts are alike.
    • IRA withdrawals, other than Roth IRAs, must be taken by December 31st of each year – and it doesn’t matter if you’re working or not (don’t forget, there is a first year exemption as noted earlier).
    • 401(k) and 403(b) withdrawals can be deferred past age 70-1/2 provided you’re still working, you don’t own more than 5% of the company, and your employer’s plan allows this.
    • As noted, Roth IRAs have no RMD requirements.  Important:  If you’re in a Roth 401(k), those accounts are treated the same as other non-Roth accounts.  The key here is to roll that balance into a Roth IRA where there will be no RMDs or taxation on withdrawals.
  2. Fotila Images

    Get the amount right!

    The amount of your total RMD is based on the total value of all of your IRA balances requiring an RMD as of December 31st of the prior year. You can take your RMD from one account or split it any or all of the others.  Important:  This doesn’t apply to 401(k)s or other defined contribution (DC) plans… they have to be calculated separately and the appropriate withdrawals taken separately.

  1. Remember: It’s not all yours!

You have a business partner in your 401(k), IRA, and/or any other tax-deferred plan:  Uncle Sam owns part of your withdrawal.  How much depends on your tax bracket – and he can change the rules without your consent any time he wants.  Some partner.   Chances are you will face either a full or partial tax, depending on how your IRA was funded – deductible or non-deductible contributions.  Important:  The onus is on you, not the IRS or your IRA custodian, to keep track of those numbers.  Chances are your plan at work was funded with pretax money, making the entire RMD taxable at whatever your current rate is; and, as mentioned earlier, it’s possible your RMDs could put you in a higher tax bracket.

It’s all about provisional income and what sources of income are counted.  The amount that’s above the threshold for your standard deduction and personal exemptions are counted.  By the way – here’s something few people think about:  While municipal bond interest may be tax-free, it IS counted as provisional income, which could raise your overall taxes, including how much tax you will pay on Social Security income.   Talk to your tax advisor.

  1. Watch the calendar.

    If you fail to take it by December 31st of each year – even if you make a miscalculation on the amount and withdraw too little – the IRS may hit you with an excise tax of up to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn!  Oh, yes, you still have to take the distribution and pay tax on it, too!   There have been occasions when the IRS has waived this penalty – floods, pestilence, bad advice, etc.

Remember to talk with your tax advisor. I am not a CPA or an attorney (and I don’t play one on tv); but, of course, these are issues that come up in retirement planning and wealth management quite often.

Happy retirement!

Jim


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Worried About the Markets? Maybe you should(n’t) try alternatives – part 2.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

In my last post, a talked about how the financial planning profession has changed dramatically since I opened my first office in  1991; but, the financial services industry – not to be confused with the profession that operates alongside it – seems to have changed little, though it’s changed a lot.

I talked about how the financial product manufacturing, marketing, and sales channels represent an industry that exists alongside – not necessarily a part of – the financial planning profession.  It doesn’t help, of course, that anyone can call themselves a financial planner – but I digress.

Alternative investments (alts) represent one example, which I discussed in the last post.  Another alternative investment is deferred annuities.

People love guarantees.  Marketers know this and the use of the word virtually always gets investors’ attention – particularly those who’ve amassed significant assets and are contemplating retirement.

The media – always on the alert for something they can hype or bash for ratings and typically lazy – find it easy to highlight high costs and shady salespeople.   And, there’s some truth to that.  Guaranteed income or withdrawal riders and equity indexed annuities do tend to have high costs.  Often the guarantees that are less attractive than those presented.

The cost-benefit argument could, and probably will, go on forever.   I have other issues.  The first is, does an annuity make sense at all?  – Any annuity.   There’s no tax-deferral benefit if used inside an IRA and it limits your investment choices.  They also often have surrender charges that enter into future decision-making; but, even when there are no surrender charges, the withdrawals can harm performance or even undermine the guarantees that were the focus of the sale.

For me, here’s the big issue:  the annuity creates something most of my clients no longer want any more of – deferred income (who know what future tax rates will look like in 10-15 years as government deficits climb?  Deferred income comes out first and is taxed at ordinary income tax rates.

Deferred income in non-qualified annuities (outside IRAs, etc., funded with normally taxable money) is income in respect of a decedent (IRD) and does not get a step-up in cost basis at the death of the holder – someone will pay taxes on the earnings and they may be in a higher tax bracket or the IRD may put them there.

There may be other ways to invest using alternative strategies.  Options can work, but they also carry additional costs and risk.

Talk to your advisor –  maybe one with recognized credentials and willing to take fiduciary status might be a good idea – to see what your plan should be.


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Worried About the Markets? Maybe you should(n’t) try alternatives.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

The financial planning profession has changed dramatically since I opened my first office in 1991; but, the financial services industry – not to be confused with the profession that operates alongside it – seems to have changed little, though it’s changed a lot.  What?  I’ll explain.

The industry, comprised largely of product manufacturers and their sales arms (these days it seems anyone can say they’re a ‘financial advisor’), has a long track-record of constantly packaging new products to take advantage of a demand among investors that the product manufacturers create through their marketing.   New ‘issues’ (created by marketing) give rise to new products to be sold to fill a marketing-driven demand.  Changes in product innovation to generate new sales is the constant that never changes.

This doesn’t mean it’s all bad; it’s just that it can be difficult for spectators to recognize the game without a program.

Alternative investments get a lot of press these days – especially if there’s a perceived risk of a down or bear market… a perception that’s convenient to exploit at almost any point in time.  The media likes ratings, so profiling people that called a market top or decline – and made money – is always good for attracting an audience.  And, since there’s always someone on each side of a trade, finding someone on the right side isn’t difficult.

I’ve always felt that many fund managers operate like baseball free agents.  Being on the right side of a call gets them on tv, which in turn attracts new assets, which in turn leads to bigger year-end bonuses.  I could be wrong, or not.

Many captive “advisors” are putting their clients into “alts” these days because their employer firms (the distribution arm for the product manufacturer) are emphasizing them.

My sales pitch for alternatives:   With alternatives, you can have higher costs, greater dependency on a fund manager’s clairvoyance, less transparency, low tax-efficiency, and limited access to your money!  What do you think?

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a black and white decision.  They can have a place in a well-designed portfolio; and, while many endowment funds and the ultra-wealthy do tend to own alts, most of us aren’t among the ultra-wealthy and risk mitigation is important.

More about alternatives next time.


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

ROLLOVER MISTAKES CAN BE COSTLY

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

… and mistakes are more common than you might think.

IRA mistakes generally revolve around errors associated with required minimum distributions (RMDs), hardship distributions, and distributions involving pre-tax vs. after-tax funds; but rollover errors can create special headaches.  Ineligible rollovers are often taxable (unless they are after-tax funds) and could be subject to a 10% IRS penalty.  Not good.

According to retirement expert Ed Slott[i], the biggest three ineligible rollovers are:

>  Violations of the one-per-year IRA rollover rule

>  Missing the 60-day rollover deadline.

>  Distributions to non-spouse beneficiaries (a non-spouse beneficiary can never do a rollover.  The funds must be moved as direct transfers).

Those are only the top three; but there are many other lesser-known rollover tax-traps.   If you’re retiring and planning a rollover, you might consider getting professional help.  You can find a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® (CFP®) professional here.

Naturally, if I can help, you can get things started here.

Here’s an IRA Rollover Checklist you might find helpful, as well as a little insight about How To Get Value from an Advisor Relationship.

Jim

——————-

[i] El Slott is a CPA based in Rockville Centre, New York, who has appeared on PBS and is the author of several books on IRAs.


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Annuities Can Generate Guaranteed Income for Life! So, why do people hate them?

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Many people who’ve enjoyed their employers’ guaranteed retirement pensions probably never gave much thought to the fact that some of their compensation was being diverted into an account that would fund the pension – and I’ll bet even fewer suspected that their pension was likely being funded with an annuity purchased by their employer.   They would have hated purchasing an annuity themselves; but, they love the pension.

But there is an anti-annuity bias existing among many, if not most, investors.  And this is despite the fact that there are certain realities we all face:

  • We don’t know how long we will live – we face longevity risk, the risk of running out of money.
  • When the ‘bad return years’ will occur (Murphy’s Law) – that’s called sequence of returns risk.
  • If and when unexpected financial disasters might occur – health issues, roof and air/heating go kaput at the same time (Murphy’s Law again).

The good news is the use of an immediate or deferred annuity can help solve many concerns, particularly the first two above – the income is for life and market returns won’t affect that income.   This is why many refer to their use as a ‘personal pension plan’.

But, there is no such thing as the perfect investment – at least I haven’t found it (and I’ve been looking on behalf of clients for more than 27 years).

Every investment on the planet has a set of characteristics.   It’s generally not a question of what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’; it’s more of a question of whether (or not) the majority of those characteristics are appropriate and beneficial – or whether the majority are inconsistent with the client’s financial situation, as well as his/her goals and desires.

  • Sometimes, problems arise when people misconstrue the purpose of an annuity.  Instead of focusing on the true purpose (providing an income for life), they often focus on the risk of dying before they receive all their money back.  They hate the thought the insurance company might `win’.   Despite the fact they hope they’ll never have a house fire (which would allow them to ‘collect’), they forget they’re really insuring against a risk (longevity) in the same way they insure their homes and cars.
  • Some focus on ‘returns’, conflating an annuity purchase with a bond.  The truth is they’re not purchasing a stream of dividends or interest; they’re purchasing an income stream, i.e. cash flow for life – in effect, a return of principal and interest with one difference:  It’s for life; it never runs out.
  • Another obstacle appears to be investors’ tendency to misprice the value of a guaranteed income for life.  Few understand time-value of money and generally greatly underestimate the amount of money it takes to fund a monthly income for life.   No wonder lottery winners tend to take the lump-sum and most people elect to take Social Security at 62.

Almost everyone would like a pension; but, few are willing to fund it – despite the fact that those who do have pensions and Social Security income did indeed fund those annuity payments with about 6% from each paycheck.

When one considers it takes a 25% return to buy-back a 20% loss in the markets, guaranteed income for life can sound pretty good IF there’s a willingness to fund the income stream.

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Are fixed annuities right for everyone?  No.  Nothing is.  Some academic research seems to support their use as a portfolio component for those with between $400,000 and $2 million; but, that’s academic theory, which often doesn’t translate well into the real world.   Not everyone who fits this profile will have the same family situations, lifestyle requirements, health concerns, goals, yada, yada, yada.

It’s also worth remembering that annuities can be very complex products with a lot of moving parts – something that contributes to investor hesitancy.   However, if you decide you want an annuity as part of your portfolio – talk this over with your advisor and be sure you understand how it will fit with your current formal retirement plan (or if it’s even needed) – a few key points are worth remembering:

A retirement annuity is not an investment; it’s a risk-transfer tool.   You are purchasing a lifetime income stream and transferring longevity risk to the insurance company.  It’s an insurance policy.

A retirement annuity should not be your total retirement strategy – it’s a supplement to your other planning, as well as Social Security.

Do not automatically assume annuities are good.  Do not assume they are automatically bad.  Simply see if and how this planning component could fit (or not) with your formal plan.

Finally, I can hear someone asking, “Do you recommend annuities to your clients?”   My use of annuities in client portfolios can best be described as extremely rare.  It’s not that annuities are bad; it’s more that, for one reason or another, they either haven’t been needed or there were other overriding issues that were more important.   That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend a particular annuity design if circumstances warranted – it’s just been a rare occurrence up to now.

Annuities can be confusing:  Variable annuities are NOTHING like fixed annuities.  An annuity linked to a market index is NOT a variable annuity – it’s actually a fixed annuity and it is NOT an investment in the stock market.

If you’re not sure, the best advice is to get professional help.    After all, how many of us would stand in front of a mirror with a pair of pliers when we have a toothache?

Jim


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and an ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.