Annuities Are Gaining Popularity in Retirement Planning

Should You Invest In Annuities?

Millions of Americans have watched their retirement savings invested in company pensions, 401Ks, and IRAs take massive percentage loses during this global financial crisis. Equity investors’ appetite for risk has evaporated. Safety of their principle is now the primary investment concern. And it is likely to stay this way for years.

Annuities have re-emerged as a potentially safer way to accumulate and manage distributions of retirement funds. There are many common misconceptions about annuities and their uses. We attempt here to provide some basic information about annuities and to help investors decide if annuities are a suitable investment vehicle for investing their hard earned money or planning for their retirements.

What is an annuity?

An annuity is a contract between typically an insurance company and one or more persons whereby that person or persons receive periodic payments for life, or for a specified number of years. There are two major types of annuities, immediate and deferred annuities. Normally, immediate annuities are purchased with a single payment (aka. SPIAs) and income payments begin within one year from date of purchase. The more common type of annuity is the deferred annuity where monies are contributed for an extended period of time to accumulate value and the payments do not begin until some defined future date.

The primary objective of an annuity contract is to pay financial benefits to the person(s) who receive the annuity payments during their lifetimes. Annuities are unlike a life insurance contract, whose primary objective is to pay a death benefit. No medical underwriting is required to enter into an annuity contract. However, certain annuity contracts may offer optional death benefits and other living benefits found in insurance contracts. The annuity products environment is very dynamic and new products with useful riders and flexible benefits are continually being designed and approved for sale in the marketplace.

The 4 parties to an annuity contract

The insurance company who issues the contract assumes a number of financial obligations to the owner, the annuitant, and the beneficiaries. The insurance company promises to invest the owner’s premium payments responsibly, or according to the owner’s instructions as in variable annuities, and to credit the interest earned or capital gains to the appropriate funds within the annuity. Annuity contracts are not FDIC insured. The issuing insurance company is regulated by state laws. Each state’s insurance commissioner inforces their reserve requirements in order to hold the insurance company responsible for guarantees of income or return of premiums.

The owner is the person or legal entity who enters into the contract with the insurance company to purchase the annuity. The owner pays the premiums, chooses which options and riders are to be included in the contract, and has the right to withdraw or surrender the contract.

The annuitant is the person whose life is the measuring life for the annuity contract. It cannot be a legal entity or corporation. The annuitant has no legal rights to the contract. The annuitant cannot alter the contract, withdraw funds, or change beneficiaries.

The beneficiary is the person or legal entity who normally inherits the annuity proceeds at the death of the annuitant. The annuitant and the beneficiary should not be the same person because the beneficiary is to receive the funds at the annuitant’s death. The beneficiary has no legal rights to the contract before the annuitant’s death. When the annuitant dies, the beneficiary does have legal rights to the death proceeds. However, the owner may change the beneficiary at any time, right up to the annuitant’s death bed.

Why most individuals purchase annuities

There are 4 main reasons why individuals purchase annuities.

1. Retirement income – The most common reason people purchase annuity contracts is to accumulate funds for retirement income. Fixed and indexed annuities provide safety of principle during the accumulation period and flexibility to manage those funds once in retirement.

2. Safety of principle – Fixed deferred annuities guarantee the principle and some level of interest earnings, currently about 3%, or less.

3. Tax deferral – Deferred annuities are tax-deferred investments. They compete for investment dollars that would otherwise go into taxable investments like money market funds, CDs, bonds, and savings accounts.

4. Growth of principle – Annuities may provide a better rate of return than other investments. Variable deferred annuities and fixed indexed annuities compete for investment dollars that would otherwise go into taxable mutual funds or stock equities.

An important tax distinction of annuities is that annuity retirement income does not count as earned income against Social Security income.

Qualified and nonqualified annuities

Qualified annuity contracts are funded with pre-tax dollars. Nonqualified annuity contracts are funded with after-tax dollars. There are many IRS rules governing the additions, transfers, and roll-over of funds between qualified and nonqualified accounts to annuity contracts. The tax deferral feature that is a part of all annuity contracts is redundant when dealing with qualified accounts that already enjoy the advantage of tax-deferral. Consult your tax advisor before making any purchasing or transfer decisions of money in or out of an annuity contract.

Types of annuities

Annuities may be classified into several different categories:

  • Single-premium or flexible premium annuities
  • Immediate or deferred-payment annuities
  • Qualified or nonqualified annuities
  • Fixed-interest, indexed, or variable deferred annuities

Deferred annuities are classified by the method the insurance company uses to determine how interest is credited to the annuity contract.

Fixed-interest annuities are the simplest and safest type of deferred annuity. The principle is guaranteed by the financial strength and required reserves of the insurance company. They offer the annuity owner a guaranteed interest rate for a specific period of time, usually 1, 5, or 10 years. Once the initial interest rate guarantee period is over the companies set renewal interest rates according to the interest rate environment at the time of renewal. Lately, renewal interest rates have been resetting lower because of the declining interest rate environment.

Indexed annuities tie the interest earnings of the annuity contract to an outside index of securities, in most domestic cases, to the S & P 500 index. This type of annuity offers its owners the same guarantee of principle as the fixed annuity. But the built-in S & P indexing strategy allows the owner to participate in potential market growth without the down-side market risks of a variable annuity. Indexed annuities allow the owner to select one of usually several indexing strategies and to periodically reselect different ones based upon the movement in the tracking index. Indexed annuities are becoming more popular since the financial crisis and the equity markets collapse.

Variable deferred annuities are the most complex type of annuity. Variable annuities enable the owner to invest their contributions in a series of sub-accounts tied to various financial markets, usually mutal funds of stocks and bonds. The owner takes on all the market risks in these sub-accounts and may in fact lose portions of their investment principle.

Are Annuities Right for You?

Are annuities are the right retirement planning tool for you? It depends. Annuities have rules and penalties. Some have many moving parts. You should know exactly what those rules and penalties are before investing. Our recommendation is that you should only invest in annuities if you plan to leave the funds in the annuity for the entire term. And you should never put all of your money into annuities. There are substantial surrender charges and early withdrawal penalties associated with most annuities. Many annuities now have guaranteed minimum withdrawl benefits (GMWBs) whereby you may take penalty free withdrawls after a certain period of time. But when the term is fulfilled, you may withdraw all of your paid premiums and all realized gains and guaranteed amounts without penalty. There may be tax consequences for taking a lump sum. You may also choose to annuitize your investment and take periodic payments for life or equal payments for a certain period of time.

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

Wouldn’t it make sense to take just a portion of your retirement savings that are still at risk and purchase an annuity with sufficient lifetime income guarantees to cover your basic living expenses?

Or, wouldn’t it make sense to purchase an annuity with sufficient pay-out to cover the annual premiums of your long-term care insurance so you don’t deplete your savings?

And, wouldn’t it make sense to put some of your savings into a fixed deferred annuity and reduce your income tax?

If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you should consider investing in an annuity.

These are decisions you should only make after consulting with your financial advisor.

We offer fixed and indexed annuities from the major domestic carriers – Aviva, ING, Allianz, Old Mutual, Principal, and others.

Learn if your retirement goals and objectives are suitable for annuities.

Call 800-536-7522 to speak with an experienced broker