Hidden Surrender Charges

You could be paying them without knowing it. It pays to do some math.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

I don’t know anyone, certified financial planner professionals included, who is a fan of surrender charges; but, economically they are a fact of life for many products simply to make the offering available and viable for the investment or financial product provider.

For consumers, the surrender charge represents an obstacle that stands between them and having total liquidity—and the charge itself reduces the value of the product should that liquidity be required at some future date.   Sometimes, however, consumers are already paying for the liquidity they desire even if they never need or use it!

Hypothetical example:   Mary and John have $150,000 “just in case”  money set-aside in savings.  They have no particular purpose for it but they like knowing it’s there if they should need it.  They’re not making much interest, of course, probably less than 2% – but they like the liquidity.   They’ve heard about another investment that in all likelihood could help them achieve a 5% return, but it has a surrender charge—something they would like to avoid—so they’re staying with their savings account.    In effect, due to the return difference, they’re paying 3% per year for their liquidity right now.  In three years, they will have paid 9% – $13,500!   In five years the liquidity/opportunity cost will be 15% – $22,500—even without growth. 

Maybe the alternative might be a better bet—especially if other questions result in favorable  answers:  Is the tax treatment different?  How much of the money is even subject to surrender charges and how much might be liquid without surrender charges?   Does it make sense to pay 3% in opportunity cost up front for liquidity they may not even use—or does it make more sense to pay for it when it’s needed?  And how much would it even be?

It pays  to do the math and examine all alternatives.



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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 21st year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742.  IFG helps specializes in crafting wealth design strategies around life goals by using a proven planning process coupled with a cost-conscious objective and non-conflicted risk management philosophy.

Opinions expressed are those of the author.  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.