Considerations For Choosing An Immediate Annuity

When it comes time to retire, one method for receiving income from your savings is to purchase an immediate annuity. The purpose of an immediate annuity is to provide a regular payment over a certain period of time or over the investor’s lifetime.

 

An immediate annuity can preserve a minimum level of income that you cannot outlive. Allocating a portion of your retirement money to an option that will provide income for life can make sense for many retirees.

So how does an investor decide what immediate annuity to purchase?

The scenarios discussed in this article apply in the United States. Readers are encouraged to consult their accountants about tax considerations related to buying annuities.

It’s also important to consider that when earnings from an annuity are withdrawn, they will be taxed as ordinary income, no matter how long the owner has owned the account.

Different Types Of Immediate Annuities

Steve Vernon, a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, writing for CBS News’ “Money Watch,” noted that immediate annuities can be fixed, inflation adjusted and variable and guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit (GLWB). GLWB combines the features of traditional annuities and systematic withdrawals.

Once you purchase a fixed or inflation adjusted immediate annuity, your payout is locked in, Vernon noted. Your payments will not be adjusted based on changes in capital markets.

The monthly payout on a variable annuity, by contrast, will change based on the annuity’s stock and bond portfolio. The owner can modify the portfolio even after they start receiving payments. Vernon recommends keeping the stock allocation between one third and two thirds.

When shopping for GMWB annuities, Vernon recommends annuities with management fees around 50 basis points or lower, and insurance fees round 100 basis points.

Vernon encourages people to use online annuity purchase services like www.immediateannuities.com and Income Solutions and Immediateannuities.com to compare different immediate annuities.

Immediate Fixed Annuity Considerations

Steve Goldberg, an investment adviser writing in Kiplinger, thinks of an immediate fixed annuity as term life insurance in reverse, the longer you live, the better you do.

The insurance company pools the premiums from thousands of its annuities and invests them primarily in bonds. The company also makes educated guesses about how long its annuity buyers will live. It then makes monthly payments to policyholders each month based upon both expected longevity and expected investment returns.

In today’s low-interest-rate environment, that’s much better than an investor can do in all but the riskiest bonds, according to Goldberg. It’s also likely better than an investor can do if he put all his money into stocks.

But there is a catch: With an annuity, you don’t get your money back, unless the buyer opts for what’s known as a “certain period annuity” or similar option. Additional features, however, usually bring additional costs.

Goldberg believes immediate fixed annuities usually make sense only for retirees. The older the retiree, the fewer years the insurance company will have to pay the benefits – so the bigger the monthly checks.

Immediate annuities seldom make sense for all of an investor’s money, Goldberg notes.

Like Vernon, Goldberg suggests going to ImmediateAnnuities.com to compare different immediate annuities. Plug in the state you live in, your age and your gender, and the website provides quotes from numerous companies.

How Immediate Annuities Are Bought

There are three typical ways to purchase immediate annuities, according to Rich White, a financial writer writing in Investopedia.

One method is the annuitization of a tax-deferred annuity. The purpose of a tax-deferred annuity, unlike an immediate annuity, is to build funds to create an income stream at a later date. Most tax-deferred annuities permit the account to be converted at some point in time to a guaranteed income stream.

Another method is the lump sum payment, in which the investor’s funds are transferred to an insurance company to purchase a revenue stream. Oftentimes, the investor is using cash from a retirement plan distribution, lottery winnings or an award from a personal injury settlement.

A third method is the terminal funding of a retirement plan. Some retirement plans offer annuity payouts. The plan in this case terminates its liability to the participant by transferring the participant’s funds to an insurance company. When retirement plans “pay out” in this manner, a “qualified immediate” annuity of offered for tax efficiency.

These choices all present options. The owner of a tax-deferred annuity who wants to annuitize is not limited to the payout offered by the insurance company, White notes. The policyholder can shop payouts offered by competing companies and conduct a tax-free transfer to the company offering the best terms. This is known as a Section 1035 exchange.

If a retirement plan offers a particular insurance company for terminal funding, the policyholder can shop for others and select the plan they find most suitable.

An annuity payout over a fixed number of years that is purchased with a single sum can be converted to an annual interest rate equivalent, White noted.

If, for example, the policyholder is quoted an annuity of $600 per month for 20 years in exchange for paying a premium of $10,000, an annuity rate calculator will find this payout converts to an annual interest rate of 3.96%. This rate can then be compared to other fixed-period annuity payouts, perhaps over longer or shorter periods, and also to rates available on bonds, money market funds or CDs.

For a lifetime annuity payout, there is no fixed period to evaluate. Death could occur at any time, and the payments would discontinue. White recommends a good starting point is to use the annuitant’s life expectancy as the payout period.

If a 67-year-old female is offered a lifetime payment of $600 per month for a $100,000 premium, her life expectancy would be 17.67 years, based on the 2007 Period Life Table published by the Social Security Administration.

Immediate Annuity Payout Options

One payout option for immediate annuities is income for a guaranteed period, which is also called “certain period annuity,” according to CNN Money, as noted in a previous article on annuities’ role in financial planning. This guarantees a specific payment for a specific time period. If the owner dies before the period ends, their beneficiary receives the remainder of the payments.

Another option is lifetime payments that guarantee a payout for the owner as long as they are alive, but there is no survivor benefit. The payouts can be variable or fixed, depending on the type of annuity selected. The amount of the payout depends on the amount invested and the owner’s life expectancy.

Still another payout option is life with a guaranteed period certain benefit, also known as “life with certain period.” The owner receives a guaranteed payout for life along with a period certain phase. If the owner dies during the certain period, the beneficiary continues to receive the payment for the remainder of that period.

Joint and survivor annuity is one in which the beneficiary continues receiving payments for the rest of their life after the owner dies.

Do Your Homework

It is important to buy an annuity from a company that holds a top credit rating from the three leading agencies of U.S. insurance companies: A.M. Best, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

The considerations for shopping for an immediate annuity are extensive. Investors must spend their time comparing options. Many retirees will find it worth their time to work with a financial adviser.

Those who seek the assistance of an insurance agent must keep in mind that insurance agents are paid commissions by the insurance companies offering the annuities. Investors have the option of working with a non-commissioned financial adviser.

Author:
Lester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.