Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Looking for a Deferred Fixed Income Annuity on Steroids?

Deferred income annuities (DIAs) have been getting a lot of attention since the Treasury and IRS finalized a regulation in July, 2014 blessing the use of qualified longevity annuity contracts, or “QLACs.” A QLAC is a DIA that’s held in a qualified retirement plan such as a traditional IRA with a lifetime income start date that can begin up to age 85. It’s subject to an investment limitation of the lesser of $125,000 or 25% of one’s retirement plan balance.

Fixed Income Annuity Hierarchy

For individuals concerned about longevity who are looking for a sustainable source of income they can’t outlive, fixed income annuities are an appropriate solution for a portion of a retirement income plan. There are three types to choose from:

  1. Immediate annuities
  2. Deferred income annuities (DIAs)
  3. Fixed index annuities (FIAs) with income riders

The overriding goal when choosing fixed income annuities is to match after-tax income payouts to periodic amounts needed to pay for specified projected expenses using the least amount of funds. Immediate annuities, with a payout that begins one month after purchase date, are appropriate for individuals on the cusp of retirement or who are already retired. DIAs and FIAs with income riders, with their built-in deferred income start dates, are suitable whenever income can be deferred for at least five years, preferably longer.

Assuming there isn’t an immediate need for income, a deferred income strategy is generally the way to go when it comes to fixed income annuities. This includes one or more DIAs or FIAs with income riders. Which should you choose?

DIA Considerations

As a general rule, DIAs and FIAs are both qualified to fulfill the overriding income/expense matching goal. Both offer lifetime income payouts. If your objective is deferred lifetime sustainable income, DIA and FIA with income rider illustrations should be prepared to provide you with an opportunity to compare income payouts.

DIAs can also be purchased for a specified term of months or years. This can be important when there are projected spikes in expenses for a limited period of time.

DIAs may also be favored when used in a nonretirement account since a portion of their income is treated as a nontaxable return of principal. Finally, if you’re looking to defer the income start date beyond the mandatory age of 70-1/2 for a limited portion of a traditional IRA, a QLAC, which is a specialized DIA, may be an appropriate solution.

Let’s suppose that you’re a number of years away from retirement and you’re not sure when you want to retire or how much income you will need each year. A DIA may not be your best choice since you lock in a specified income start date and income payout at the time of investment with most DIAs.

FIA with Income Rider Features

FIAs with income riders hold a distinct advantage over DIAs when it comes to income start date flexibility. Unlike a DIA, there’s no requirement to specify the date that you will begin receiving income when you purchase a FIA.

The longer you hold off on taking income, the larger the periodic payment you will receive. Furthermore, there’s no stipulation that you ever need to take income withdrawals. This is ideal when planning for retirement income needs ten or more years down the road.

For individuals not comfortable with exchanging a lump sum for the promise of a future income stream beginning at a specified date, i.e., a DIA, a FIA with its defined accumulation value and death benefit, offers an attractive alternative assuming similar income payouts. While an optional death benefit feature can be purchased with a DIA to provide a return of premium to one or more beneficiaries prior to the income start date, this will reduce the ongoing income payout amount.

A FIA also has a defined investment, or accumulation, value that equates to a death benefit. Unlike with most DIAs, flexible-premium FIAs offer the ability to make additional investments that will increase income withdrawal amounts in addition to the investment value.

Some FIAs offer a premium bonus that matches a limited percentage, e.g., 5%, of your initial, as well as subsequent, investments for a specified period of time. The accumulation value is also increased by contractually-defined periodic interest credits tied to the performance of selected stock indices.

Finally, a FIA’s accumulation value is reduced by withdrawals and surrender and income rider charges. Any remaining accumulation value is paid to beneficiaries upon the death of the owner(s).


A comprehensive retirement income plan is a prerequisite for determining the type(s), investment and income payout timing, and investment amounts of fixed income annuities to match after-tax income payouts with projected expense needs assuming that longevity is a concern. If you don’t have an immediate need for income and your objective is lifetime sustainable income, DIA and FIA with income rider illustrations should be prepared to provide you with an opportunity to compare potential income payouts.

With their ability to match a spike in expenses for a limited period of time, term DIAs offer a unique solution. When it comes to lifetime income payouts, FIAs with income riders, with their flexible income start date and accumulation value and associated built-in death benefit, are, in effect, a DIA on steroids.

Given the foregoing advantages and assuming similar income payouts, FIAs with income riders generally offer a more comprehensive solution for fulfilling sustainable lifetime income needs, with the possibility of a larger death benefit. A potential exception would be when investing in a nonretirement account for higher tax bracket individuals subject to one’s preference for a flexible income start date and accumulation value/death benefit in a particular situation.

Last, but not least, all proposed annuity solutions should be subjected to a thorough due diligence review and analysis of individual life insurance companies and products before purchasing any annuity contracts.


Retirement Income Visions Celebrates 4-Year Anniversary!

Thanks to my clients, subscribers, and other readers, Retirement Income Visions™ is celebrating its four-year anniversary. Retirement Income Visions™ published a weekly post each Monday morning beginning four years ago through and including the March 11, 2013 post.

Beginning with the March 25, 2013 post, Retirement Income Visions™ changed to a biweekly publication schedule. This was in response to my acceptance of another retirement income planning writing gig as a Wall Street Journal MarketWatch RetireMentors contributor. I continue to do all my writing on Saturday mornings, enabling me to fulfill my primary goal of providing outstanding, timely service to my clients.

Even with its reduced publication schedule, Retirement Income Visions™ continues to boast a fair number of followers. It has had over 72,000 pageviews in its four years of publication, including over 4,000 in the last 30 days.

In addition to becoming a RetireMentors contributor, I further distinguished myself as a retirement income planning expert when I became one of the first recipients of the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) designation from The American College on July 1st. The RICP® educational curricula is the most complete and comprehensive program available to professional financial advisors looking to help their clients create sustainable retirement income.

This past year, Retirement Income Visions™ deviated from its themed approach whereby it historically featured a long stretch of weekly posts focusing on a single retirement income planning strategy. After completing a lengthy series of weekly posts about fixed index and deferred income annuities from August 20, 2012 through November 5, 2012, I began mixing it up with a variety of educational topics.

The November 12, 2012 post, The Smooth COLA, straightened out some misconceptions about Social Security retirement benefit cost of living adjustments. The November 19, 2012 post, Black Friday – Think Roth IRA Conversion, proved to be a very timely post for those who did Roth IRA conversions at that time since they have benefited from a 23% increase in stock prices as of Friday, combined with a significant tax increase that went into effect on January 1st for higher income taxpayers.

The November 26, 2012 through December 17, 2012 posts featured two two-part miniseries about two important Social Security topics, Social Security as a deferred income annuity and considerations when choosing a Social Security starting age.

The January 7, 2013 post, The 2013 Tax Law Schizophrenic Definition of Income – Part 1, was timely, as it was quoted extensively and linked in Robert Powell’s MarketWatch January 11, 2013 Now is the Time for Tax-Efficient Investments article. The January 7th post and the January 14th, 21st, and February 4th posts, which included Part 2 of the January 7th post and a two-part miniseries, New Tax Law – Don’t Let the Tax Tail Wag the Dog, provided readers with a comprehensive understanding of the new tax laws that went into effect on January 1st.

The next four posts, beginning with the February 11, 2013 post, The Almost Irrevocable Retirement Income Planning Decision, through the March 4, 2013 post, Insure Your Longevity Risk with Social Security, featured a series of four timely Social Security topics.

Retirement Income Visions™ really began mixing it up, beginning with the March 11, 2013 post, Consider the Future Purchase Option When Buying Long-Term Care Insurance, through the July 29, 2013 post, Immediate Annuities – Where’s the Planning? The eleven posts in this stretch presented a number of different topics, including long-term care insurance, retirement income planning considerations and strategies, fixed index and immediate annuities, Medicare, longevity insurance, budgeting, and personal financial management systems.

As I’ve traditionally done in previous “anniversary” posts, I would like to conclude this post by thanking all of my readers for taking the time to read Retirement Income Visions™. Once again, a special thanks to my clients and non-clients, alike, who continue to give me tremendous and much-appreciated feedback and inspiration. Last, but not least, a big thank you to Nira, my incredible wife, for her enduring support of my blog and MarketWatch RetireMentors writing and other professional activities.


Immediate Annuities – Where’s the Planning?

As a retirement income planner, in addition to the Retirement Income Visions™ blog posts and MarketWatch RetireMentors articles that I write, I read a lot of retirement planning and retirement income planning (If you’ve been reading my articles, you know there’s a distinct difference between the two disciplines) articles written by other writers.

While I’m happy to see that immediate annuities are often recommended as a potential retirement income planning strategy, I get concerned when they’re touted as the only income solution, especially in today’s low-interest-rate environment.

I have discovered after questioning writers about their recommendation that knowledge about other types of income annuities is lacking in many cases.

An immediate annuity is a fixed income annuity for which annuitization begins one month after date of purchase with a single premium. For those of you who aren’t familiar with, or need to brush up on your understanding of, annuities, please refer to the following five terms that are defined in the Glossary of Terms: annuity, annuitization, fixed annuity, fixed income annuity, and immediate annuity.

From a planning perspective, assuming there isn’t an existing retirement income plan in place that includes deferred fixed income annuities, it’s my belief that the recommendation of an immediate annuity as the only income solution in many cases demonstrates a lack of planning and understanding about other types of annuity income strategies, including how they can interact to optimize an individual or family’s sustainable income.

By definition, annuitization, or the structured payout, of an immediate annuity begins one month after date of purchase of the annuity contract. Assuming that a recommendation is made today to purchase an immediate annuity with a lifetime payout, the lack of income deferral opportunity, combined with today’s low interest rate environment, is generally going to result in a relatively small monthly payment. While the payment is guaranteed by each individual life insurance carrier, subject to each carrier’s claims paying ability, and is subject to favorable income tax treatment, it nonetheless will generally be modest at best.

Assuming that you have at least five years until retirement, you have the ability to implement retirement income planning strategies that include fixed income annuities with deferred payments as part of your plan. This includes deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”) and fixed index annuities (“FIA’s) with guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefits (“GLWB’s”), generally offered as income riders. Please refer to these terms in the Glossary of Terms if you’re not familiar with them. In addition, you may want to read the five-part series, FIA’s With Income Riders vs. DIA’s: Which is Right for You?

The deferred payment nature of DIA’s and FIA’s with income riders provides insurance carriers with the opportunity to invest your premium for an extended period of time as defined by each annuity contract. How does this benefit you? For starters, there will be no taxation of your investment between the date of your purchase and the date that you begin your withdrawals, otherwise known as tax deferral. More importantly, the deferral period provides you with the ability to receive a larger monthly income stream than a stand-alone immediate annuity solution. Furthermore, the timing of the commencement and amount of your payments can be customized to meet your financial needs.

An immediate annuity, when presented as the only income strategy, is generally not appropriate as a retirement income planning solution in many cases in my opinion. A holistic retirement income plan that includes deferred fixed income annuities is often a preferable alternative.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

Your Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider – What You Don’t Receive – Part 2 of 2

Per Part 1 of this two-part series, before we talk about what you receive when you purchase an income rider with a fixed index annuity, it’s important to understand what you don’t receive. As stated last week, this needs to be placed in the context of fixed income annuities. If you haven’t done so already, I recommend that you read last week’s post before continuing with this one.

There are four things that you don’t receive when you purchase an income rider with a fixed index annuity that are associated with fixed income annuities:

  1. Annuitization
  2. Immediate payments
  3. Ability to receive payments over a fixed period
  4. Annuitization tax treatment of nonretirement distributions

The first three things will be addressed in the remainder of this post, with a discussion of annuitization tax treatment of nonretirement distributions deferred to next week.


As explained last week, one of the unique features that’s associated with a fixed income annuity is the right to annuitize, or receive an income stream for a specified length of time from your investment. While you retain the right to annuitize the accumulation value of a fixed index annuity, the determination of income rider payment amounts is a separate calculation, independent of the accumulation value. Although they reduce the accumulation value of the contract, income rider payments are deemed to be withdrawals vs. annuitization of the contract. This is an important distinction when it comes to income tax treatment as you will learn about next week.

Immediate Payments

With a fixed index annuity income rider, you have flexibility as to when you begin receiving your income so long as you don’t need the income right away. Unlike fixed income annuities, however, where the payments that you receive can be either immediate or deferred, with fixed index annuities, the earliest income starting date generally doesn’t begin until twelve months after the contract’s issue date.

Ability to Receive Payments Over a Fixed Period

Another important difference between a fixed income annuity and the receipt of income payments using an income rider that’s attached to a fixed index annuity is the payment duration. Per Part 1, when you annuitize a fixed income annuity, the payments are made (a) over a stated period of months or years, or (b) for the duration of the insured’s and potentially his/her spouse’s and/or other individuals’ lifetime(s) depending upon the payout option selected. With a fixed index annuity, payments are for life. This is the case even if there’s no accumulation value remaining in the fixed index annuity.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

Your Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider – What You Don’t Receive – Part 1 of 2

As stated in last week’s post, while a fixed index annuity has several unique conservative and desirable investment features, assuming your goal is to create a lifetime retirement paycheck, you need to apply for an optional income rider when your retirement income planner submits your application. As pointed out last week, income riders are currently available with less than 40% of all fixed index annuities.

What exactly do you receive when you purchase an income rider with your fixed index annuity? How does it work? How can it be used as part of a retirement income planning strategy to create a lifetime retirement paycheck?

Before we talk about what you receive when you purchase an income rider with a fixed index annuity, it’s important to understand what you don’t receive. The remainder of this post will begin a two-part discussion devoted to this topic.

In order to understand what you don’t receive when you purchase an income rider with your fixed index annuity, we need to place it in the context of fixed income annuities. A fixed income annuity is the broad class of annuities under which fixed index annuities fall.

One of the unique features that’s associated with a fixed income annuity is the right to annuitize your investment. Per the Glossary, annuitization is defined as the irrevocable structured payout of an annuity with a specified payment beginning at a specified date, paid at specified intervals over a stated period of months or years or for the duration of the annuitant’s and potentially his/her spouse’s and/or other individuals’ lifetime(s) depending upon the payout option selected. That’s a roundabout way of saying that you’re entitled to receive an income stream for a specified length of time.

In addition, when you purchase a fixed income annuity, the timing of commencement of payments can be different, depending upon whether you purchase an immediate or deferred fixed income annuity. With an immediate annuity, payments begin one month after date of purchase. Deferred annuities generally won’t begin making payments for at least 12 months from date of purchase.

Finally, with fixed income annuities, when the income stream as defined by the terms of the annuity contract ends, so does the annuity contract. Unless there’s a refund feature, there’s no accumulation value that’s payable to the annuitant(s) or to his/her beneficiaries.

Now that you have a basic understanding of fixed income annuities, I will continue the discussion regarding what you don’t receive when you purchase an income rider with a fixed index annuity next week when I share with you the unique characteristics of fixed index annuity income riders compared to fixed income annuities in Part 2.

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.