Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Income Tax Planning Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract (QLAC)

Is a QLAC Right for You?

2014 marked the introduction of qualified longevity annuity contracts, or QLACs. For those of you not familiar with them, a QLAC is a deferred fixed income annuity designed for use in retirement plans such as 401(k) plans and traditional IRAs (a) that’s limited to an investment of the lesser of $125,000 or 25% of the value of a retirement plan and (b) requires that lifetime distributions begin at a specified date no later than age 85. QLAC investment options are currently limited to deferred income annuities, or DIAs.

The purchase of deferred fixed income annuities in retirement plans for longevity protection isn’t a new concept. What’s unique about QLACs is the ability to extend the start date of required minimum distributions (RMDs) from April 1st of the year following the year that you turn 70-1/2 to up to age 85. This provides potential income tax planning opportunities for QLAC holders subject to the purchase cap.

Potential Income Tax Savings

A lot of individuals are selling QLACs short due to the purchase cap. While on the surface, $125,000 may not represent a sizable portion of a retirement plan with assets of $750,000 or more, the potential lifetime income tax savings can be significant.

The amount of savings is dependent on six factors: (a) amount of QLAC investment (b) age at which QLAC investment is made, (c) deferral period from date of QLAC purchase until income start date, (d) rate of return, (e) income tax bracket, and (f) longevity.


I have prepared the attached exhibit to illustrate potential income tax savings achievable by investing $125,000 at three different ages in a QLAC by comparing it to a non-QLAC investment that’s subject to the RMD rules. Assumptions used in the preparation of the exhibit are as follows:

  1. $125,000 is invested in a non-QLAC vehicle at one of three different ages: 55, 60, or 65.
  2. Rate of return is 5%.
  3. RMD’s are taken from age 71 through 85, the range of ages between which RMD’s and QLAC distributions, respectively, are required to begin.
  4. Income tax brackets are 2015 federal income tax brackets plus 5% for assumed state income tax.

In addition to assumed rates of return and income tax brackets, a key assumption is the age at which the QLAC investment is made. All else being equal, purchases at earlier ages avoid greater amounts of RMDs and associated income tax liability. Per the exhibit, the amount of projected income tax savings over 15 years ranges from approximately $20,000 to $97,000 depending upon assumed QLAC investment date and income tax bracket.


Reduction of RMDs and associated income tax liability is an important goal, however, it may not be the best strategy for achieving the overriding goal of retirement income planning, i.e., making sure that you have sufficient income to meet your projected expenses for the duration of your retirement.

There are several questions you need to answer to determine the amount, if any, that you should invest in a QLAC:

  • What are your projected federal and state income tax brackets between age 71 and 85?
  • What are the projected rates of return on your retirement funds between 71 and 85 taking into consideration the likelihood of at least one bear market during this time?
  • What is your, and your spouse, if married, projected life expectancy?
  • Which years between age 71 and 85 can you afford to forego receipt of projected net RMD income, i.e., RMD less associated income tax liability?
  • Will you need to take retirement plan distributions in excess of your RMDs, and, if so, in which years and in what amounts?
  • What other sources of income do you have to replace the projected RMD income you won’t be receiving?
  • What is the projected income tax liability you will incur from withdrawing funds from other sources of income?
  • What is the amount of annual lifetime income that you will receive from a QLAC beginning at various ages between 71 and 85 assuming various investment amounts, with and without a death benefit with various payout options?
  • Does it make more sense to invest in a non-QLAC longevity annuity such as a fixed index annuity with an income rider?
  • Should you do a Roth IRA conversion instead?

Given the fact that opportunities to reduce RMDs and associated income tax liability are limited, QLACs are an attractive alternative. Projected income tax savings are just one factor to consider and can vary significantly from situation to situation, depending upon assumptions used. There are a number of other considerations that need to be analyzed before purchasing a QLAC to determine the best strategies for optimizing your retirement income.

Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Immediate Income Annuities: The Cornerstone of a Successful Retirement Income Plan

Last week’s blog post introduced a powerful income laddering strategy using a customized blend of fixed income annuities to create and optimize retirement income. As discussed, this strategy offers retirees the benefit of predictable inflation-adjusted income streams to close projected income gaps as well as generate tax efficiency for the nonretirement portion of one’s portfolio while reducing exposure to the gyrations of the stock market. Two types of fixed income annuities were introduced: immediate and deferred, with the former being the subject of this week’s blog.

Annuities have a long history, tracing their roots to Roman times. Contracts during the Emperor’s time were known as annua, or “annual stipends” in Latin. Roman citizens made a one-time payment in exchange for a stream of payments for a fixed term or for life.

In 1653, a Neapolitan banker named Lorenzo Tonti developed a system for raising money in France called the tontine whereby individuals purchased shares in exchange for income generated from their investment. As shareholders died, their income was spread among the surviving investors until the last person alive collected all of the remaining benefits. Although the use of tontines spread to Britain and the United States to finance public works projects, it was eventually banned since it created an incentive for investors to eliminate their fellow investors in order to obtain a larger payout.

Private sector annuities have been available in the United States for over two centuries. In 1759, Pennsylvania charted a company to provide survivorship annuities for families of ministers. In 1912, The Pennsylvania Company for Insurance on Lives and Granting Annuities was founded and became the first American company to offer annuities to the general public.

The earliest commercial annuities became the predecessor for immediate income annuities, otherwise known as single premium income annuities, or “SPIAs,” that are in widespread use today.

Immediate income annuities, or SPIAs, are distinguished from deferred income annuities, or DIAs, based on the timing of commencement of payments from the insurance company to the annuitant. “Immediate” is somewhat of a misnomer since the payments don’t begin immediately after investment in an annuity contract. Most annuity investors choose a monthly payout and therefore receive their first payment from a SPIA one month after purchase. Initial payments will be delayed for one quarter, six months, or a year when quarterly, semi-annual, and annual payout modes, respectively, are elected.

While a customized blend of SPIAs when used in conjunction with deferred income annuities, or DIAs, can be an ideal retirement income laddering strategy, an individual SPIA can solve many income needs. As such, it’s often used as the cornerstone of retirement income plans. SPIAs’ unique characteristics and benefits are very appealing to retirees since they include the following, several of which also apply to DIAs:

  1. Immediate, predictable, guaranteed income (subject to individual insurers’ claims-paying ability), often for life, beginning at retirement
  2. Protection against outliving assets
  3. Flexible choices of payment plans to meet one’s needs
  4. Choice of frequency of payments
  5. Reduction of income tax liability through tax-favored status in nonretirement accounts, potential reduction of taxable Social Security benefits, and reduction of required minimum distributions (RMDs) in retirement accounts
  6. Reduced exposure to fluctuation of the stock market to the extent that funds used to purchase SPIAs were previously invested in the market
  7. Reduced dependence on ongoing investment management and associated reduction of investment management fees to the extent that funds used to purchase SPIAs were previously professionally managed

As a tradeoff for the foregoing seven benefits, it must be kept in mind that the purchase of all annuity contracts, including SPIAs, is usually an irrevocable action. Once an annuity has been purchased, the owner doesn’t have the right to terminate the contract and request a refund without incurring a substantial penalty. In addition, depending upon how the payout is structured, it could last for many years, potentially over the lifetimes of two or more individuals.

Immediate income annuities, when properly customized for a particular financial situation, can result in reduced financial worries and an associated positive retirement experience. While they can be an effective cornerstone for many retirement income plans, however, they usually aren’t a total solution for creating and optimizing retirement income.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Using Fixed Income Annuities to Build Your Income Portfolio Ladder

The previous two blog posts introduced the income portfolio plan strategy and the importance of designing laddered income streams to fund a retirement income plan. If you haven’t read these two posts yet, I would recommend that you do so before reading this one. This post introduces a powerful income laddering strategy that can be used to create and optimize your retirement income.

As stated in last week’s post, due to the fact that our financial situation and needs will change at different stages of our retirement years, a retirement income plan must provide for different and distinct income streams to match our expense needs associated with each stage. One of the most efficient ways to do this is through the use of a customized blend of fixed income annuities. Before discussing this technique, let’s first review some basics of annuity investing for those of you who may not be familiar with this often misunderstood type of investment.

Annuities are offered by life insurance companies through a contractual relationship between the insurance company and the owner of an annuity contract. A distinguishing feature of annuities from other types of investments is “annuitization,” or the ability to convert the annuity to an irrevocable structured payment plan with a specified payout by the insurance company to an individual(s), or “annuitant(s)” over a specified period of time through different lifetime and term certain options offered by the insurance company.

Unlike most non-retirement vehicles that have ongoing income tax consequences associated with them while you own them, a basic distinction between annuities and other types of investments is that annuities offer the tax-deferred advantages of retirement assets such as 401(k) plans and IRA’s without several of the negative tax consequences associated with the latter.

There are two basic types of annuities, both offered by life insurance companies: fixed and variable. Fixed annuities are similar to CD’s since they have a fixed, pre-defined term and interest rate and don’t fluctuate in value. Unlike CD’s which are offered by banks and are insured up to FDIC limits, fixed annuities guarantee principal subject to the claims-paying ability of individual insurance companies. Variable annuities, on the other hand, are invested in equity investments, such as mutual funds, and as such, fluctuate in value and have greater risk associated with them.

When annuities are annuitized, they are referred to as “income annuities.” Unlike any other income planning strategy, in addition to closing projected income gaps, fixed income annuities can be structured to provide predictable inflation-adjusted income streams as well as tax efficiency for the nonretirement portion of one’s portfolio. Two types of fixed ncome annuities that will be the subject of, and will be discussed in more detail in, the next two blog posts can, and generally should, be used: immediate and deferred.

Single premium immediate annuities, or “SPIAs,” make periodic payments, typically monthly, for a specified number of months or for an individual’s lifetime or joint lifetimes as applicable. The payments generally begin one month after purchase of a SPIA, hence the term “immediate.”

While the use of SPIAs is widespread, deferred income annuities, or “DIAs,” are currently offered by only a handful of life insurance companies. Like SPIAs, DIAs pay periodic income for a specified period of time or over one’s lifetime or joint lifetimes as applicable. Unlike SPIAs, however, the start date of the payments for DIAs is deferred for at least 13 months from the date of investment.

The power of the use of a customized blend of fixed income annuities, including their preference as a retirement income planning solution, will become apparent in future blog posts. Suffice it to say, this is definitely the way of the future for many retirees to benefit from predictable inflation-adjusted income streams to close projected income gaps as well as generate tax efficiency for the nonretirement portion of one’s portfolio while reducing exposure to the gyrations of the stock market.