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.

Roth IRA

Roth IRA Conversions – Don’t Let the Tax Tail Wag the Dog – Part 6 of 6

Parts 3, 4, and 5 of this six-part series discussed the three primary benefits to be derived from a Roth IRA conversion: (1) elimination of taxation on 100% of the growth of Roth IRA conversion assets, (2) elimination of exposure to required minimum distributions on traditional IRA funds converted to a Roth IRA, and (3) potential reduction in taxation of Social Security benefits.

This week’s post compares a scenario with no Roth IRA conversion to a second scenario with a Roth IRA conversion to determine which one is projected to result in more total investment assets throughout the life of the scenario. Benefit #3, i.e., potential reduction in taxation of Social Security benefits, isn’t included in the Roth IRA conversion scenario since, as stated in Part 5, this benefit is less certain than the other two and there are enough moving parts in both scenarios without including this possibility.

The decision whether or not to do a Roth IRA conversion is extremely complicated with many variables that need to be considered, a change in any one of which could significantly affect the results. Given this fact, it’s critical to understand that the results of the two scenarios presented in this blog post cannot be generalized and used as the basis for determining whether a Roth IRA conversion is appropriate for a particular situation. A detailed analysis needs to be prepared by a qualified retirement income planner for every potential Roth IRA conversion situation.

The following is a list of seven assumptions common to both scenarios:

  1. There are initially two investment accounts – a nonretirement investment account and a contributory IRA account.
  2. The scenario begins at age 50, at which time the value of each of the investment accounts is $200,000, and ends at age 85.
  3. The annual rate of return of the nonretirement and IRA accounts (contributory and Roth) is 2% and 6%, respectively.
  4. Retirement age is 65 at which time annual withdrawals of $30,000 increasing by 3% to pay for living expenses begins.
  5. There will be additional withdrawals required to pay for income tax liability attributable to the IRA withdrawals and Roth IRA conversions at an assumed combined federal and state rate of 30%.
  6. There will be annual required minimum distributions (“RMD’s”) from the contributory IRA account beginning at age 70-1/2 based on the value of the account on December 31st of the previous year using divisors obtained from the Uniform Lifetime Table.
  7. There are no capital gains in connection with withdrawals from the nonretirement investment account.

In addition to the foregoing seven assumptions, the Roth IRA conversion scenario assumes annual Roth IRA conversions of $50,000 beginning at age 50 through age 53 with a final conversion of the balance of the contributory IRA account at age 54.

Exhibit 1 assumes no Roth IRA conversion. It’s fairly straightforward from age 50 through age 64, with both investment accounts simply growing by their assumed rates of return of 2% and 6%, respectively. The annual withdrawals of $30,000 increasing by 3% begin at age 65 with the initial source of 100% of the withdrawals coming from the nonretirement investment account. The nonretirement investment account withdrawals are reduced by the contributory IRA account RMD’s beginning at age 70-1/2, the initial amount of which is projected to be approximately $24,000, however, they are increased by the income tax attributable to the IRA account withdrawals at an assumed rate of 30%. As a result, the total withdrawals from both accounts is projected to increase from approximately $34,000 at age 69 to approximately $42,000 ($18,000 + $24,000) at age 70.

When the value of the nonretirement investment account is no longer sufficient to fund the difference between the annual inflated living expenses of $30,000 and the IRA account RMD’s plus the income tax attributable to the RMD’s, which occurs beginning at age 77, additional withdrawals from the IRA account above and beyond the RMD’s are required. Per Exhibit 1, the IRA account withdrawals are projected to increase from approximately $33,000 at age 76 to $43,000 at age 77. When the nonretirement investment account is depleted at age 78, the IRA account withdrawals are projected to jump from approximately $43,000 at age 78 to approximately $57,000 at age 78. The IRA account withdrawals increase by 3% each year plus income tax at a rate of 30% until they are projected to be approximately $70,000 at age 85.

Exhibit 2 assumes a staged Roth IRA conversion, with annual conversions of $50,000 from age 50 through age 53 and a final conversion of the balance of the contributory IRA account at age 54. Unlike Exhibit 1 in which there are no withdrawals from the nonretirement investment account before age 65, annual withdrawals of $15,000 for four years plus a final projected withdrawal of approximately $11,000, for a total of $71,000, are required to pay the income tax attributable to the annual Roth IRA conversions. After age 54, there are no further withdrawals required from any of the investment accounts to pay for income taxes since (1) the contributory IRA account is depleted at age 54 as a result of the Roth IRA conversions resulting in no RMD’s or other taxable withdrawals from this account, and (2) there is no income tax attributable to withdrawals from the Roth IRA account.

Per Exhibit 2, as a result of the age 50 – 54 withdrawals from the nonretirement investment account required to pay the income tax liability attributable to the annual Roth IRA conversions and the annual living expense distributions of $30,000 increasing by 3% beginning at age 65, this account is projected to be depleted at age 70 at which time the Roth IRA account will begin to be used to fund the difference. At age 71, a projected withdrawal of approximately $36,000 is taken from the Roth IRA account. This increases by 3% per year until the projected withdrawal amount is approximately $54,000 at age 85 which is approximately $16,000 less than the contributory IRA account projected withdrawal amount at age 85 per Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 3 is a comparison of the projected investment account values at each age for the “No Roth IRA Conversion” (Exhibit 1) vs. “Roth IRA Conversion” (Exhibit 2) scenario. Given all of the assumptions used in both scenarios, the total investment value of the “No Roth IRA Conversion” scenario is projected to be greater than the “Roth IRA Conversion” scenario from age 50 through age 80, with the projected difference increasing from approximately $74,000 at age 54 following the completion of the staged Roth IRA conversion to approximately $99,000 at age 69. The projected difference decreases each year until age 81 when the total value of the “Roth IRA Conversion” assets is projected to begin to be greater than the “No Roth IRA Conversion” assets.

Once again, as stated earlier in this post, it needs to be emphasized that the results of the two scenarios presented in this blog post cannot be generalized and used as the basis for determining whether a Roth IRA conversion is appropriate for a particular situation. Furthermore, a detailed analysis needs to be prepared by a qualified retirement income planner for every potential Roth IRA conversion. Some lessons, however, can be derived from this exercise that can be applied to individual planning scenarios that will be the subject of next week’s post.

Retirement Asset Planning

Safe Withdrawal Rate – A Nice Rule of Thumb

Last week’s post, The Sequence of Returns – The Roulette Wheel of Retirement, showed how “luck of the rate-of-return draw” can have a dramatic affect on a retirement asset plan in determining whether you will outlive your investment portfolio. In two scenarios where the retirement age (65), portfolio beginning value ($500,000), average rate of return (7%), withdrawal rate (5%), and inflation factor applied to the withdrawal rate (3%) were identical, and the only variable was good vs. bad early years, there were quite different results. With the “Good Early Years” scenario, after 25 years, at age 90, distributions totaled $964,000, the portfolio earned $1.385 million, and the portfolio value was $921,000. Under the “Bad Early Years” scenario, the portfolio was depleted after 16 years at age 81 after taking distributions totaling $541,000 and the portfolio earning $41,000.

Many people would argue that 5% seems like a reasonable withdrawal rate, however, as we saw, under the “Bad Early Years” scenario, this proved to be too aggressive. The financial planning industry, after many years of debate, has settled on a rule of thumb of 4% as a “safe withdrawal rate.” That is to say, you can withdraw 4% of the value of your portfolio in your first year of retirement and then increase your withdrawal amount by an inflation factor in subsequent years without depleting your portfolio during your lifetime. As an example, assuming a portfolio value of $500,000 at retirement and a 3% inflation factor, you could withdraw $20,000 ($500,000 x 4%) in Year 1, $20,600 ($20,000 x 1.03) in Year 2, $21,218 ($20,600 x 1.03) in Year 3, etc.

Is a “safe withdrawal rate” something we should live by or is it simply a rule of thumb? While a 4% withdrawal rate during retirement can potentially enable you to sustain your retirement capital for the duration of your retirement, this is not always the case, particularly in “Bad Early Years” scenarios. In addition to the withdrawal rate, the interplay of the following ten variables will determine whether or not you will outlive your portfolio:

  1. Type of portfolio, i.e., nonretirement vs. retirement
  2. Income tax rates
  3. Source of income tax payments, e.g., checking account, nonretirement sales proceeds, IRA withdrawal, etc.
  4. Retirement duration
  5. Average rate of return
  6. Sequence of returns
  7. Timing of earning of income
  8. Inflation rate
  9. Frequency of withdrawals
  10. Timing of withdrawals

As an example of the interplay of several of these variables, let’s make the following assumptions:

  1. Retirement age: 65
  2. Beginning portfolio value: $500,000
  3. Average rate of return: 6%
  4. Sequence of returns: Bad early years
  5. Withdrawal rate: 4%
  6. Inflation rate: 3%
  7. Frequency of withdrawals: Annual
  8. Timing of withdrawals: Beginning of year

In this scenario, despite the fact that the withdrawal rate has been reduced from 5% per the “Bad Early Years” scenario in the last post to 4%, which is generally considered to be a “safe” withdrawal rate, by simply changing one other variable, i.e., reducing the average rate of return from 7% to 6%, per Bad Early Years Assuming 6% Average Rate of Return, the portfolio is depleted at age 85. While the frequency and timing of withdrawals in this example may not be typical, the “safe withdrawal rate” of 4% isn’t conservative enough.

There are other scenarios where the interplay of the various variables is such that a withdrawal rate of 4% can prove to be problematic. As is typically illustrated, the previous example assumed an inflation rate of 3% each and every year. What happens if inflation averages 3%, however, the sequence of inflation rates is such that it is much higher in the first five years, say 7%. This would result in larger withdrawals in years 2 through 6, and, depending upon the rate of return, sequence of returns, and duration of retirement, this could result in premature depletion of the portfolio.

Mathematics aside, there are several other issues to consider when planning to use a safe withdrawal rate. For starters, why should you base your withdrawals for the duration of your retirement on the value of your retirement portfolio on a single day, i.e., the day before you retire? Also, it does not consider the fact that a sizeable portion of your expenses may be for mortgage and/or other fixed payments that don’t increase each year, and, as such, don’t require an inflation factor to be applied to them. In addition, the safe withdrawal rate methodology doesn’t take into consideration the fact that we typically incur nonrecurring expenses, planned and unplanned, e.g., new car, home improvements, wedding, etc., in addition to our ongoing expenses.

Another factor not incorporated in safe rate withdrawal calculations is the affect of differences in sources and amounts of non-portfolio income, e.g., Social Security, pensions, part-time income, etc. on portfolio values. What about the impact of inheritances on the amount of subsequent withdrawals? Finally, who is going to be responsible for doing the accounting to ensure that the amount of withdrawals doesn’t exceed the targeted amount in a particular year?

While the amount of withdrawals calculated using safe withdrawal rate methodology may match your income needs in some years, this probably won’t be the case in most years. This is arguably its single biggest weakness. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live my life based on a simple calculation that doesn’t consider my changing financial needs. While a safe withdrawal rate is a nice starting point, or rule of thumb, for calculating retirement withdrawal amounts, its limitations need to be considered when applying it to one’s retirement plan.

Retirement Asset Planning Retirement Income Planning

The Sequence of Returns – The Roulette Wheel of Retirement

So here you are, crossing the threshold from earning a living to going into retirement. You worked hard for many years. You built a sizeable, diversified investment portfolio. You hedged your bet by purchasing life insurance and long-term care insurance. Your will and other estate planning documents have been updated to reflect your current goals and financial situation. Everything’s in place, or so you think.

Welcome to the roulette wheel of retirement, otherwise known as the “sequence of returns.” If you haven’t planned for this financial phenomenon, your retirement could be quite different than you envisioned. To illustrate this important concept, let’s take a look at three hypothetical scenarios. In each one we’ll use the following five assumptions:

1. Retirement age: 65
2. Portfolio value: $500,000
3. Annual withdrawals: $25,000, or 5% of the initial portfolio value,
increasing by 3% each year
4. Life expectancy: 25 years, or until age 90
5. Average rate of return: 7%

The last assumption is the most critical one and can wreak havoc on your portfolio if you only rely on a retirement asset planning strategy during your retirement years.

Let’s start with Scenario #1 – 7% Return Each Year. While this scenario never occurs in real life, it’s often used for illustration purposes. Once you review Scenario #1 – 7% Return Each Year, you will see that even after taking out withdrawals that begin at $25,000 and more than double to $52,000 at age 90, your portfolio value increases from $500,000 at age 65 to $576,000 at age 78 and then gradually declines in value to $462,000 at age 90. You’ve taken distributions totaling $964,000 and your portfolio has earned $926,000 over 25 years. Nice result!

Scenario #2 – Good Early Years assumes that you are fortunate enough to retire at the beginning of a bull market where your investment returns exceed your inflation-adjusted withdrawal rate of 5% for several years, you experience a couple of years of negative rates of return, and a bear market kicks in your final three years, resulting in negative rates of return each year. Per Scenario #2 – Good Early Years, although it doesn’t occur in a straight line, your portfolio increases from $500,000 at age 65 to a peak of almost $1.5 million at age 87, with a final value of $921,000, or double the value of Scenario #1, at age 90. Like Scenario #1, you’ve taken distributions totaling $964,000 and your portfolio has earned $1.385 million over 25 years. Life is great!

So far, so good. To illustrate Scenario #3 – Bad Early Years, let’s simply reverse the order of investment rates of return that we assumed in Scenario #2. As in Scenario #1 and Scenario #2, over 25 years, we’re going to end up with the same average rate of return of 7%, however, the first three years are going to be bumpy, to say the least. Unlike Scenario #2, where your portfolio value increases by $208,000 the first five years, going from $500,000 at age 65 to $708,000 at age 70, per Scenario #3 – Bad Early Years, it decreases by $224,000, going from $500,000 at age 65 to $276,000 at age 70, or a swing of $432,000 during the same period.

Your portfolio continues to decrease in value each year until it is depleted at age 81. Instead of taking distributions totaling $964,000 as you did in Scenarios #1 and #2, your total distributions over 25 years are only $541,000. Furthermore, instead of realizing portfolio income totaling $926,000 in Scenario #1 and $1.385 million in Scenario #2 over 25 years, your total portfolio income is a measly $41,000. Yikes!

In both Scenario #2 and Scenario #3, there are negative rates of return in only five, or 20%, of the total of 25 years of retirement. Two years of negative rates of return out of ten years, on the average, is fairly typical for long-term historical rates of return for a diversified equity-based portfolio. As you can see, in Scenario #3, it doesn’t matter that 80% of the returns were positive, nor is it relevant that there was an average rate of return of 7%. As a result of the portfolio being depleted at age 81, the hypothetical individual in this situation wasn’t able to experience the 11.4% average rate of return during the final nine years.

The most important factor in Scenario #3, and the #1 risk to any retirement asset plan, is the sequence of returns. While you have no control over this investment phenomenon, you don’t need to play roulette with your retirement assets.

Retirement Asset Planning Retirement Income Planning

Withdrawal Drag – The Silent Killer

As you approach retirement, are you aware of the silent killer lurking on the horizon? Let’s call our silent killer “W.D.” When you enter the retirement zone, W.D. will be right behind you, looking over your shoulder, waiting to spring into action. When you dare to take your first withdrawal from your portfolio, W.D. will pounce – only you won’t know it. You will continue on, as if nothing happened, innocently taking your withdrawals each month. As each deposit hits your checking account, W.D. will extract a toll on your portfolio, one that will increase in size with each transaction. And guess what? You will never know what hit you. You see, W.D., or “Withdrawal Drag,” is the ultimate portfolio silent killer.

Before we expose the secrets of “withdrawal drag,” first some background. When you’re saving for retirement, or you’re in the “accumulation stage,” as we retirement income planners like to refer to it, assuming that you take no withdrawals from your portfolio, you realize the beauty and grace of compounding rates of return. To appreciate compounding, let’s start with simple interest.

With simple interest, you earn interest on your principal. Let’s say you have a portfolio that’s worth $500,000 and it earns simple interest of 7%. In year 1, you will earn $500,000 x 7%, or $35,000. Your portfolio will be worth $535,000 ($500,000 + $35,000) at the end of year 1. In year 2, you will earn $500,000 x 7%, or $35,000. At the end of year 2, your portfolio will be worth $570,000 ($535,000 + $35,000). And so on. That’s OK, however, there’s a better way to go – compounding.

Through compounding, in addition to earning interest on your principal, you also earn interest on your interest. Using the previous example, after year 1 when your portfolio is worth $535,000, in year 2 you earn interest on $535,000, not just $500,000. You earn $535,000 x 7%, or $37,450 vs. $35,000 and your portfolio is worth $572,450 vs. $570,000 at the end of year 2 using simple interest. The benefit to you of earning compound vs. simple rates of return increases each year. For a simple example of the magic of compounding, please see Exhibit 1 – $500,000 Growing At 7% Compound Interest. Per Exhibit 1, over 26 years, you have earned $2,403,676 and your portfolio has grown from $500,000 to $2,903,676. Although it isn’t illustrated, this is an increase of $1,493,676, or more than double, over the value of your portfolio of $1,410,000 using simple interest.

Enter Mr. W.D., or “Withdrawal Drag.” Continuing on with our example, let’s take a look at Exhibit 2 – $500,000 Growing at 7% Compound Interest With Annual Withdrawals. Now you’re 65 and you’ve entered the retirement zone. You’re still earning a compound rate of return of 7% on your portfolio, however, you’re taking withdrawals from your portfolio each year. Let’s assume that your withdrawals at age 65 total 5% of the value of your portfolio, or 5% of $500,000, or $25,000, and they increase by 3% each year. Per Exhibit 2, after starting with $500,000 at age 65, after 26 years, or at age 90, (1) your withdrawals total $964,000, (2) you earned $926,000, and (3) your portfolio is worth $462,000, or $38,000 less than what you started with. Not a bad result, right? Well, yes and no.

To answer the question, let’s step back and look at what your $500,000 portfolio would have been worth if you never took any withdrawals and you subtract your total withdrawals and ending balance of your portfolio at age 90 after taking withdrawals:

$500,000 growing at 7% compound interest for 26 years per Exhibit 1: $ 2,903,676
Less: Total withdrawals at age 90 per Exhibit 2 (   963,826)
Less: Ending balance of portfolio at age 90 per Exhibit 2 (   462,230)

Withdrawal Drag $ 1,477,620

What happened to almost $1.5 million? Ah, hah – mystery solved! The culprit is, guess who? Mr. W.D. Sure enough, per Exhibit 3 – Withdrawal Drag, the difference between your total earnings of $2,403,676, assuming no withdrawals per Exhibit 1, and your total earnings of $926,056, assuming withdrawals of 5% of your starting principal increasing by 3% per year per Exhibit 2, is exactly $1,477,620. At first, seemingly innocent, extracting a mere $1,750 from your portfolio at age 65 per Exhibit 3, Mr. W.D. doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. With each, passing year, however, Mr. W.D. gets greedier and greedier, taking almost $20,000 at age 72, $59,000 at age 80, and helping himself to $160,000 at age 90.

And so ladies and gentleman, as you enter the retirement zone, keep a close eye out for Mr. W.D. each and every time that you take a withdrawal from your portfolio. He’ll be watching you!