You may have heard that IRAs and employer-sponsored plans (e.g., 401(k)s) are the best ways to invest for retirement. That’s true for many people, but what if you’ve maxed out your contributions to those accounts and want to save more? An annuity may be a good investment to look into.
Get the lay of the land
An annuity is a tax-deferred insurance contract. The details on how it works vary, but here’s the general idea. You invest your money (either a lump sum or a series of contributions) with a life insurance company that sells annuities (the annuity issuer). The period when you are funding the annuity is known as the accumulation phase. In exchange for your investment, the annuity issuer promises to make payments to you or a named beneficiary at some point in the future. The period when you are receiving payments from the annuity is known as the distribution phase. Chances are, you’ll start receiving payments after you retire. Annuities may be subject to certain charges and expenses, including mortality charges, surrender charges, administrative fees, and other charges.
Understand your payout options
Understanding your annuity payout options is very important. Keep in mind that payments are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer. You want to be sure that the payments you receive will meet your income needs during retirement. Here are some of the most common payout options:
- You surrender the annuity and receive a lump-sum payment of all of the money you have accumulated.
- You receive payments from the annuity over a specific number of years, typically between 5 and 20. If you die before this “period certain” is up, your beneficiary will receive the remaining payments.
- You receive payments from the annuity for your entire lifetime. You can’t outlive the payments (no matter how long you live), but there will typically be no survivor payments after you die.
- You combine a lifetime annuity with a period certain annuity. This means that you receive payments for the longer of your lifetime or the time period chosen. Again, if you die before the period certain is up, your beneficiary will receive the remaining payments.
- You elect a joint and survivor annuity so that payments last for the combined life of you and another person, usually your spouse. When one of you dies, the survivor receives payments for the rest of his or her life.
When you surrender the annuity for a lump sum, your tax bill on the investment earnings will be due all in one year. The other options on this list provide you with a guaranteed stream of income (subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuer). They’re known as annuitization options because you’ve elected to spread payments over a period of years. Part of each payment is a return of your principal investment. The other part is taxable investment earnings. You typically receive payments at regular intervals throughout the year (usually monthly, but sometimes quarterly or yearly). The amount of each payment depends on the amount of your principal investment, the particular type of annuity, your selected payout option, the length of the payout period, and your age if payments are to be made over your lifetime.
Consider the pros and cons
An annuity can often be a great addition to your retirement portfolio. Here are some reasons to consider investing in an annuity:
- Your investment earnings are tax deferred as long as they remain in the annuity. You don’t pay income tax on those earnings until they are paid out to you.
- An annuity may be free from the claims of your creditors in some states.
- If you die with an annuity, the annuity’s death benefit will pass to your beneficiary without having to go through probate.
- Your annuity can be a reliable source of retirement income, and you have some freedom to decide how you’ll receive that income.
- You don’t have to meet income tests or other criteria to invest in an annuity.
- You’re not subject to an annual contribution limit, unlike IRAs and employer-sponsored plans. You can contribute as much or as little as you like in any given year.
- You’re not required to start taking distributions from an annuity at age 70½ (the required minimum distribution age for IRAs and employer-sponsored plans). You can typically postpone payments until you need the income.
But annuities aren’t for everyone. Here are some potential drawbacks:
- Contributions to nonqualified annuities are made with after-tax dollars and are not tax deductible.
- Once you’ve elected to annuitize payments, you usually can’t change them, but there are some exceptions.
- You can take your money from an annuity before you start receiving payments, but your annuity issuer may impose a surrender charge if you withdraw your money within a certain number of years (e.g., seven) after your original investment.
- You may have to pay other costs when you invest in an annuity (e.g., annual fees, investment management fees, insurance expenses).
- You may be subject to a 10 percent federal penalty tax (in addition to any regular income tax) if you withdraw earnings from an annuity before age 59½, unless you meet one of the exceptions to this rule.
- Investment gains are taxed at ordinary income tax rates, not at the lower capital gains rate.
Choose the right type of annuity
If you think that an annuity is right for you, your next step is to decide which type of annuity. Overwhelmed by all of the annuity products on the market today? Don’t be. In fact, most annuities fit into a small handful of categories. Your choices basically revolve around two key questions.
First, how soon would you like annuity payments to begin? That probably depends on how close you are to retiring. If you’re near retirement or already retired, an immediate annuity may be your best bet. This type of annuity starts making payments to you shortly after you buy the annuity, typically within a year or less. But what if you’re younger, and retirement is still a long-term goal? Then you’re probably better off with a deferred annuity. As the name suggests, this type of annuity lets you postpone payments until a later time, even if that’s many years down the road.
Second, how would you like your money invested? With a fixed annuity, the annuity issuer determines an interest rate to credit to your investment account. An immediate fixed annuity guarantees a particular rate, and your payment amount never varies. A deferred fixed annuity guarantees your rate for a certain number of years; your rate then fluctuates from year to year as market interest rates change. A variable annuity, whether immediate or deferred, gives you more control and the chance to earn a better rate of return (although with a greater potential for gain comes a greater potential for loss of principal). You select your own investments from the subaccounts that the annuity issuer offers. Your payment amount will vary based on how your investments perform.
Note: Variable annuities are long-term investments suitable for retirement funding and are subject to market fluctuations and investment risk including the possibility of loss of principal. Variable annuities contain fees and charges including, but not limited to mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender (early withdrawal) charges, administrative fees and charges for optional benefits and riders.
Variable annuities are sold by prospectus. You should consider the investment objectives, risk, charges and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the variable annuity, can be obtained from the insurance company issuing the variable annuity or from your financial professional. You should read the prospectus carefully before you invest.
It pays to shop around for the right annuity. In fact, doing a little homework could save you hundreds of dollars a year or more. Why? Rates of return and costs can vary widely between different annuities. You’ll also want to shop around for a reputable, financially sound annuity issuer. There are firms that make a business of rating insurance companies based on their financial strength, investment performance, and other factors. Consider checking out these ratings.
Reaching Retirement: Now What?
You’ve worked hard your whole life anticipating the day you could finally retire. Well, that day has arrived! But with it comes the realization that you’ll need to carefully manage your assets so that your retirement savings will last.
Review your portfolio regularly
Traditional wisdom holds that retirees should value the safety of their principal above all else. For this reason, some people shift their investment portfolio to fixed-income investments, such as bonds and money market accounts, as they approach retirement. The problem with this approach is that you’ll effectively lose purchasing power if the return on your investments doesn’t keep up with inflation.
While generally it makes sense for your portfolio to become progressively more conservative as you grow older, it may be wise to consider maintaining at least a portion of your portfolio in growth investments.
Don’t assume that you’ll be able to live on the earnings generated by your investment portfolio and retirement accounts for the rest of your life. At some point, you’ll probably have to start drawing on the principal. But you’ll want to be careful not to spend too much too soon. This can be a great temptation, particularly early in retirement.
A good guideline is to make sure your annual withdrawal rate isn’t greater than 4% to 6% of your portfolio. (The appropriate percentage for you will depend on a number of factors, including the length of your payout period and your portfolio’s asset allocation.) Remember that if you whittle away your principal too quickly, you may not be able to earn enough on the remaining principal to carry you through the later years.
Understand your retirement plan distribution options
Most pension plans pay benefits in the form of an annuity. If you’re married you generally must choose between a higher retirement benefit paid over your lifetime, or a smaller benefit that continues to your spouse after your death. A financial professional can help you with this difficult, but important, decision.
Other employer retirement plans like 401(k)s typically don’t pay benefits as annuities; the distribution (and investment) options available to you may be limited. This may be important because if you’re trying to stretch your savings, you’ll want to withdraw money from your retirement accounts as slowly as possible. Doing so will conserve the principal balance, and will also give those funds the chance to continue growing tax deferred during your retirement years.
Consider whether it makes sense to roll your employer retirement account into a traditional IRA, which typically has very flexible withdrawal options. 1If you decide to work for another employer, you might also be able to transfer assets you’ve accumulated to your new employer’s plan, if the new employer offers a retirement plan and allows a rollover.
Plan for required distributions
Keep in mind that you must generally begin taking minimum distributions from employer retirement plans and traditional IRAs when you reach age 70½, whether you need them or not. Plan to spend these dollars first in retirement.
If you own a Roth IRA, you aren’t required to take any distributions during your lifetime. Your funds can continue to grow tax deferred, and qualified distributions will be tax free.2 Because of these unique tax benefits, it generally makes sense to withdraw funds from a Roth IRA last.
Know your Social Security options
You’ll need to decide when to start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits. At normal retirement age (which varies from 66 to 67, depending on the year you were born), you can receive your full Social Security retirement benefit. You can elect to receive your Social Security retirement benefit as early as age 62, but if you begin receiving your benefit before your normal retirement age, your benefit will be reduced. Conversely, if you delay retirement, you can increase your Social Security retirement benefit.
For many workers, the sudden change from employee to retiree can be a difficult one. Some employers, especially those in the public sector, have begun offering “phased retirement” plans to address this problem. Phased retirement generally allows you to continue working on a part-time basis–you benefit by having a smoother transition from full-time employment to retirement, and your employer benefits by retaining the services of a talented employee. Some phased retirement plans even allow you to access all or part of your pension benefit while you work part time.
Of course, to the extent you are able to support yourself with a salary, the less you’ll need to dip into your retirement savings. Another advantage of delaying full retirement is that you can continue to build tax-deferred funds in your IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan. Keep in mind, though, that you may be required to start taking minimum distributions from your qualified retirement plan or traditional IRA once you reach age 70½, if you want to avoid substantial penalties.
If you do continue to work, make sure you understand the consequences. Some pension plans base your retirement benefit on your final average pay. If you work part time, your pension benefit may be reduced because your pay has gone down. Remember, too, that income from a job may affect the amount of Social Security retirement benefit you receive if you are under normal retirement age. But once you reach normal retirement age, you can earn as much as you want without affecting your Social Security retirement benefit.
Facing a shortfall
What if you’re nearing retirement and you determine that your retirement income may not be adequate to meet your retirement expenses? If retirement is just around the corner, you may need to drastically change your spending and saving habits. Saving even a little money can really add up if you do it consistently and earn a reasonable rate of return. And by making permanent changes to your spending habits, you’ll find that your savings will last even longer. Start by preparing a budget to see where your money is going. Here are some suggested ways to stretch your retirement dollars:
- Refinance your home mortgage if interest rates have dropped since you obtained your loan, or reduce your housing expenses by moving to a less expensive home or apartment.
- Access the equity in your home. Use the proceeds from a second mortgage or home equity line of credit to pay off higher-interest-rate debts, or consider a reverse mortgage.
- Sell one of your cars if you have two. When your remaining car needs to be replaced, consider buying a used one.
- Transfer credit card balances from higher-interest cards to a low- or no-interest card, and then cancel the old accounts.
- Ask about insurance discounts and review your insurance needs (e.g., your need for life insurance may have lessened).
- Reduce discretionary expenses such as lunches and dinners out.
By planning carefully, investing wisely, and spending thoughtfully, you can increase the likelihood that your retirement will be a financially comfortable one.
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017.
*Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. The Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.
CFS representatives do not provide tax or legal guidance. For such guidance please consult with a qualified professional, information shown is for general illustration purposes and does not predict or depict the performance of any investment or strategy. Past performance does not guarantee future results.