Deferred Income Annuities Longevity Insurance Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract (QLAC) Retirement Income Planning

Don’t Expect to See QLAC’s Soon

One of the most exciting retirement income planning opportunities since the elimination of the Roth IRA conversion income threshold in 2010 has been approved, however, it isn’t available yet for purchase.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the change in Roth IRA conversion eligibility rules, prior to 2010, only taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 were eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. With the elimination of the income threshold, Roth IRA conversions have soared in popularity since anyone may convert part, or all, of his/her traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. See Year of the Conversion to learn more.

The most recent potential retirement income planning game-changer, qualified longevity annuity contracts, or “QLAC’s,” have received a fair amount of press since the Treasury and IRS finalized a regulation in the beginning of July blessing their use. I have personally written two other articles about them, beginning with 6 Ways a New Tax Law Benefits a Sustainable Retirement published July 25th in the RetireMentors section of MarketWatch and my August 4th Retirement Income Visions™ blog post, You Don’t Have to Wait Until 85 to Receive Your Annuity Payments.

What are QLAC’s?

QLAC’s came about in response to increasing life expectancies and the associated fear of outliving one’s assets. With the passage of IRS’ final regulation, retirement plan participants can now invest up to the lesser of $125,000 or 25% of their retirement plan balance in specially-designated deferred income annuities, or “DIA’s,” that provide that lifetime distributions begin at a specified date no later than age 85. Unlike single premium immediate annuities, or “SPIA’s,” that begin distributing their income immediately after investment, the start date for DIA income payments is deferred for at least 12 months after the date of purchase.

As discussed in my July 25th MarketWatch article, QLAC’s offer a new planning opportunity to longevitize your retirement in six different ways. While longevity is the driving force for QLAC’s, the income tax planning angle, which is the first possibility, has been attracting the lion’s share of media attention. Specifically, QLAC’s provide retirement plan participants with the ability to circumvent the required minimum distribution, or “RMD,” rules for a portion of their retirement plan assets. These rules require individuals to take annual minimum distributions from their retirement plans beginning by April 1st of the year following the year that they turn 70-1/2.

Where Do I Buy a QLAC?

I’ve had several people ask me recently, “Where do I buy a QLAC?” Unlike the Roth IRA conversion opportunity that expanded the availability of an existing planning strategy from a limited audience to anyone who owns a traditional IRA with the elimination of the $100,000 income barrier beginning on a specified date, i.e., January 1, 2010, the implementation of IRS’ QLAC regulation is much more complicated. This is resulting in an unknown introduction date for QLAC offerings.

There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the nature of the product itself. First and foremost, although an existing product, i.e., a deferred income annuity, or “DIA,” will initially be used as the funding mechanism for QLAC’s, the contracts for DIA’s that are currently available don’t necessarily comply with all of the various provisions of IRS’ new QLAC regulation. While the three mentioned are the most important, i.e., (1) Only available for use in retirement plans, (2) limitation of lesser of $125,000 or 25% of retirement plan balance, and (3) distributions must begin at a specified date no later than age 85, there are other technical requirements that must be met in order for a DIA to be marketed and sold as a QLAC.

In addition to understanding and complying with the nuances of the IRS regulation, life insurance carriers that want to offer QLAC’s are scrambling to restructure existing DIA products and develop new products that will (a) match consumers’ needs, (b) be competitive, and (c) meet profit objectives. This requires a host of system and other internal changes, state insurance department approvals, and coordination with distribution channels, all of which must occur before life insurance companies will receive their first premiums from sales of this product.

Another important obstacle to the introduction of QLAC’s is the fact that fixed income annuities with deferred income start dates, including DIA’s and fixed index annuities, or “FIA’s,” with income riders, are a relatively new product to which many consumers haven’t been exposed. While both products are designed, and are suitable, for use in retirement income plans, most investment advisors don’t currently have the specialized education, licensing, and experience to understand, let alone offer, these solutions to their clients. See What Tools Does Your Financial Advisor Have in His or Her Toolbox?

So when will you be able to purchase QLAC’s? Although current speculation is that product launch may begin in the fourth quarter of this year, it’s my personal opinion that widespread availability will not occur until well into 2015. This will give investment advisers and consumers, alike, additional time to get more educated about fixed income annuities, including their place in retirement income plans. Once the word spreads, I believe that the demand for fixed income annuities will increase significantly, especially if the timing is preceded by a stock market decline.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Consider a Death Benefit When Buying Deferred Income Annuities

If you’re in the market for sustainable lifetime income, you’ve come to the right place if you’re looking at fixed income annuities. A fixed income annuity is a fixed (vs. variable) annuity that provides income payments for your lifetime or for a contractually-defined term.

There are three types of fixed income annuities, each one serving a different purpose in a retirement income plan. The three types are as follows:

The main distinction between the three types of fixed income annuities is the timing of the commencement of income payments. As its name implies, the income from a SPIA begins immediately. The actual start date is one month after the date of purchase assuming a monthly payout.

The income start date of DIA’s and FIA’s with income riders, on the other hand, is deferred. With both DIA’s and FIA’s with income riders, it’s contractually defined and is generally at least one year from the purchase date. Although you choose it when you submit your application, most DIA’s have a defined start date; with some wiggle room available on some products. The income commencement date for FIA’s with income riders is flexible other than a potential one-year waiting period and/or minimum age requirement.

Assuming that a DIA meets your retirement income planning needs, you should always consider including a death benefit feature which is optional with most DIA’s. Keeping in mind that the income start date is deferred, and it’s not unusual for the deferral period to be 10 to 25 years, especially when purchasing a DIA as longevity insurance, you probably don’t want to lose your premium, or investment, if you die prematurely.

If you purchase a DIA without a death benefit or return of premium (“ROP”) feature, and you die during the deferral period, not only will the income never begin, your beneficiaries won’t receive anything either. The death benefit or ROP feature serves the purpose of insuring your investment in the event that you die before your income distributions begin.

So how much does it cost to insure your DIA investment by adding an optional death benefit? To illustrate, I recently evaluated the transfer of $100,000 from one of my client’s IRA brokerage accounts to a DIA. My client is approaching her 65th birthday and, like all individuals with traditional IRA accounts, must begin taking annual required minimum distributions, or “RMD’s,” from her account by April 1st of the year following the year that she turns 70-1/2.

Assuming that $100,000 of my client’s IRA is transferred from her brokerage account to a DIA, and assuming that the income from her DIA begins when she turns 70-1/2, she can expect to receive lifetime monthly income of approximately $600 to $700, depending upon the DIA chosen. In one case, the monthly benefit would be reduced by $2.27, from $691.68 to $689.41 with a death benefit feature. In another case, the monthly benefit would be $1.09 less, at $664.41 without any death benefit vs. $663.32 with a death benefit.

In other words, the cost to insure the return of my client’s investment of $100,000 in the event of her death prior to turning 70-1/2 translates to an annual reduction in lifetime benefits of $13.08 or $27.24, depending on the DIA chosen. Not only is there no question about the value of the death benefit in this situation, it would be negligent in my opinion for any life insurance agent not to illustrate the addition of this feature.

Assuming that a fixed income annuity makes sense for you, and further assuming that a DIA is an appropriate solution as a piece of your retirement income plan, always evaluate your potential lifetime income payout with and without a death benefit.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Sustainable Lifetime Income When You Need It – Part 2 of 2

Part 1 of this post made the point that if your goal is to receive sustainable lifetime income, in addition to Social Security, fixed income annuities offered by life insurance companies will meet your need. Please read Part 1 to learn about the three types of fixed income annuities, including each one’s income start date.

If you’re seeking total flexibility for your lifetime income start date, then a fixed index annuity (“FIA”) with an optional income rider is your best bet. Unlike single premium immediate annuities (“SPIA’s”) and deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”) where the sole purpose is to provide sustainable income, a FIA can fulfill multiple financial needs, a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this post. When you purchase a FIA, assuming your goal is sustainable lifetime income, you must purchase an optional income rider with an annual income rider fee.

Unlike the start date for SPIA’s and DIA’s which is contractually defined, it is much more flexible with FIA’s. Most FIA income riders, also known as guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit (“GMWB”) riders, have two requirements when it comes to the income start date:

  1. You must wait at least one year after the contract is issued, and
  2. You must be at least age 50.

Assuming that you meet both requirements, the age at which you begin taking income withdrawals from a FIA is up to you. Unlike Social Security which has an eight-year window for choosing your income start date, i.e., between age 62 and 70, the start date with FIA’s is open-ended once the two requirements have been met.

Similar to Social Security, the longer you defer your start date, the greater your lifetime income payments will be. Unlike Social Security where your benefit amount will increase 7% – 8% each year that you defer your start date, the amount of increase is defined by the income rider provision of each FIA’s contract. Also, unlike Social Security, the percentage increase is generally significantly greater when you cross five-year milestones, e.g., age 60, 65, 70, 75, etc.

Here’s an example from a recent case for one of my clients who are currently in their early to mid 50’s and have invested approximately $250,000 in a FIA with an income rider. If they begin taking income at the younger spouse’s age 63, they will receive annual lifetime income of $20,479. At age 64, the amount increases 6% to $21,708. If they wait until age 65, it increases 19.3% from their age 64 amount to $25,886.

With a FIA with an income rider, in addition to having the security of receiving sustainable lifetime income, you have the luxury of starting your income when you need it. This is in addition to several other benefits offered by FIA’s, a discussion of which has been presented in various Retirement Income Visions™ posts.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Sustainable Lifetime Income When You Need It – Part 1 of 2

There have been many articles and blog posts over the last several years about the ability to delay your Social Security retirement benefit start date in order to increase your monthly benefit. I wrote about this in my March 4, 2013 post, Increase Your Longevity Risk with Social Security. Per the post, with a choice of start dates ranging between 62 through 70, you can increase your benefits 7% – 8% each year that your start date is deferred, excluding cost-of-living adjustments (“COLA’s”).

Sources of sustainable lifetime income are few and far between these days with the widespread elimination of monthly pension benefits. The ability to receive a stream of sustainable lifetime income throughout retirement while also choosing your income start date is a rare planning opportunity, the value of which shouldn’t be underestimated.

While the opportunity to receive sustainable lifetime income with a flexible start date is limited, Social Security isn’t the only game in town. If the security of sustainable lifetime income appeals to you and you want to create one or more income streams, fixed income annuities offered by life insurance companies, preferably ones that are highly rated, will also meet your need.

There are three types of fixed income annuities, all of which are contractually guaranteed by the life insurance company from which they are purchased. The three types are single premium immediate annuities (“SPIA’s”), deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”), and fixed index annuities (“FIA’s”) with income riders.

There are several important differences between the three types of fixed income annuities that have been discussed in several Retirement Income Visions™ posts. One of the differences that are relevant to this post is the income start date. SPIA’s and DIA’s have contractually defined income start dates, while the start date of FIA’s with income riders is flexible.

SPIA’s are the most restrictive with a start date that begins one month after the contract is issued, assuming a monthly payment mode is chosen. When you purchase DIA’s, you choose the income start date at the time of application. It is contractually defined with the provision that it cannot begin earlier than 13 months after your contract is issued.

Please read Part 2 of this post next week to learn about the income start date flexibility available with FIA’s with income riders that are designed to provide you with sustainable retirement income when you need it.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Is Your Investment Advisor Afraid of Losing AUM?

When it comes to retirement income planning, one of my philosophies is a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. As defined in Urban Dictionary, this expression means that it is better to have an advantage or opportunity that is certain than having one that is worth more but is not so certain.

One of the ways that I use this approach is to look for opportunities to convert what amounts to a sliver of a client’s portfolio into a deferred sustainable income stream beginning in a targeted year during my client’s planned retirement. The income stream, while it’s often for life, is sometimes for a specified period of time to close a projected retirement income gap (See Mind the Gap).

The opportunities to which I’m referring are sizeable abnormal increases in the stock market that inevitably are followed by market corrections, or downturns. Rather than celebrating what often proves to be temporary good fortune, when appropriate, I will recommend to my clients who need sustainable retirement income that they consider transferring a small portion of their investment portfolio into one or more new or existing fixed income annuities. These include fixed index annuities (“FIA’s”) with income riders, deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”), and single premium immediate annuities (“SPIA’s”).

This is a natural timely conversation that invariably makes sense to the clients to whom I recommend this approach since it is in their best interest. Furthermore, it’s an easy conversation for me to initiate since I specialize in retirement income planning, am a Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®), CPA, CFP® professional, and a licensed insurance agent in addition to my firm being regulated as a Registered Investment Advisor (“RIA”). There’s no conflict of interest when I make the above recommendation to a client since, unlike most investment advisors, my income isn’t tied to a single compensation model.

The compensation model to which I’m referring is assets under management, or “AUM.” While many firms charge financial planning fees, the lion’s share of compensation earned by most traditional investment management firms is derived from AUM. As the name implies, the fee is typically calculated as a declining percentage of the value of a client’s investment portfolio. The greater the value of a portfolio, the smaller the percentage is that is applied to calculate the investment management fee. This is one of several compensation models offered by my firm.

Firms that are tied to an “AUM” compensation model generally don’t offer retirement income planning solutions that require insurance licensing and ongoing specialized insurance and annuity training. Most “AUM” driven firms are reluctant to refer clients to advisors like myself who offer a total retirement income planning approach since, in addition to the obvious revenue loss, this would be tantamount to an admission that they’re unable to provide a total retirement income planning solution.

An “AUM” model, while it’s appropriate for assisting clients with their retirement planning, i.e., asset accumulation, needs, isn’t designed for addressing lifetime sustainable income and other retirement income planning solutions. For clients seeking sustainable retirement income, it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Longevity Insurance Retirement Income Planning

Insure Your Longevity

When people hear the term, “longevity insurance,” they immediately conjure up images of insurance agents trying to sell them an insurance policy. Longevity insurance isn’t a product in and of itself. It is instead one application of a couple of different types of fixed income annuity products offered by life insurance companies.

The Need for Longevity Insurance

It’s been my personal and professional experience that people generally underestimate how long they will live. Not only is it common to live to age 80, it isn’t unusual to survive to age 90 and even to 100. According to a March, 2012 report, The 2011 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey, prepared for the Society of Actuaries, when a couple reaches 65, there’s a 10% chance that at least one of the individuals will live to 100. There’s a 1% chance that one spouse will reach 107. More than half of retirees and pre-retirees underestimate the age to which a person of his or her age and gender can expect to live.

Given the foregoing facts, combined with the uncertainty of the sustainability of a traditional investment portfolio as a source of retirement income, there’s a need for a guaranteed lifetime income solution for the latter stage of one’s life. The income amount, when combined with other sources of sustainable income, needs to be sufficient to meet projected known and unforeseen expenses for an indefinite period of time.

Products Providing Longevity Insurance

There are two types of fixed income annuities that can be used for the purpose of longevity insurance: deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”) and fixed index annuities (“FIA’s”) with income riders. Both provide the ability to (a) receive income beginning in a future year, and (b) have the income be paid for the remainder of one’s life and a spouse’s life if married.

Deferred Income Annuities

Although DIA’s are currently offered by only a handful of life insurance companies, they’re the solution that’s typically been touted for longevity insurance up until now. Like single premium immediate annuities, or “SPIA’s,” DIA’s pay periodic income for a specified period of time or over one’s lifetime or joint lifetimes as applicable. Unlike SPIA’s which begin payments one month after date of purchase, the start date of DIA payments is contractually defined and is deferred for at least 13 months. The longer the income start date is delayed, the lower the premium, or investment, required to provide a specified amount of income.

Although DIA’s can be purchased for a specified term, e.g., ten years, when used as longevity insurance, the payout on DIA’s often starts in one’s 80’s and is for life. Depending upon the age at which a DIA is purchased, the premium can be a relatively small amount compared to the potential lifetime income that may be received.

Fixed Index Annuities With Income Riders

For those individuals who don’t want to be locked into a fixed starting date, in addition to providing an accumulation value, FIA’s with income riders offer greater flexibility than DIA’s. With FIA’s, which are more readily available than DIA’s, there’s no contractual income start date. Income withdrawals can generally begin any time at least one year after the initial investment is made. The longer the start date is deferred, the greater the amount of lifetime income. The start date can be targeted when the investment is purchased based on the amount and timing of initial and projected ongoing investments and desired amount of income. A flexible, vs. single, premium FIA is required in order to invest additional funds.

Depending upon one’s needs and marketplace availability, it may make sense to use a combination of DIA’s and FIA’s with income riders. and potentially multiple products within each category, to meet deferred lifetime income needs. As with all things of this nature, a thorough analysis should be prepared by a professional retirement income planner to determine the solution that will best meet your needs.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

With a Fixed Index Annuity, You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

Beginning with the August 1, 2011 post, Do You Want to Limit Your Potential Gains? through the November 5, 2012 post, Invest in DIA to Fund LTCI Premiums When Retired – Part 4 of 4, there were a total of 58 posts about fixed index annuities (“FIA’s”). Not to state the obvious, however, that’s a lot of information about one subject!

The impetus for the volume of material on FIA’s was, and continues to be, the fact that a FIA with an income rider is a unique and underutilized strategy that can provide a meaningful lifetime income floor for many retirement income plans while protecting against downside risk. As evidence of this fact, fixed index annuity sales have been increasing at a rapid pace the last two years while sales of variable annuities have been on the decline. Furthermore, their use as a retirement income planning tool is affirmed by the fact that the majority of sales have included an optional income rider.

What’s so special about a FIA? In one word – flexibility. A FIA is the only fixed annuity where you can receive a stream of income and also enjoy an investment value — that comes with downside protection. The other two types of fixed annuities, i.e., single premium immediate annuities (“SPIA’s”) and deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”) fulfill the income role (immediate in the case of SPIA’s and deferred with DIA’s), however, neither one of these two vehicles has an investment value. In addition, the lifetime income stream from a DIA often isn’t as competitive as lifetime payments from a FIA income rider with the same deferral period.

Another example of the flexibility associated with FIA’s is the income start date. Unlike a DIA where there’s a contractual fixed start date, the commencement of lifetime income from a FIA is totally flexible. It can typically be turned on at any time beginning one year after the contract date. Furthermore, while the lifetime income amount generally increases the longer you defer the start date, there’s no requirement to ever begin taking income withdrawals.

While SPIA’s and lifetime DIA’s (there are also period certain, or fixed term, DIA’s), are both designed to protect against the risk of longevity, the fact of the matter is that premature death can reduce their value, in some cases significantly. Some DIA’s can be purchased with a death benefit to protect against the possibility of death prior to their deferred annuitization date, however, the added insurance protection often increases the required investment amount, all else being equal.

When FIA’s are purchased with an optional income rider, it’s usually done in conjunction with some type of retirement income planning. As such, the emphasis is on deferred lifetime income, with the investment, or accumulation, value playing a secondary role. The fact of the matter is that the investment value is the anchor that provides the following four important benefits in addition to the sustainable lifetime income from the income rider:

  • Principal protection
  • Minimum guarantees
  • Upside interest potential
  • Death benefit

Assuming that no withdrawals are taken from the accumulation value in addition to income rider distributions, the accumulation value will only decrease by the income rider charge prior to turning on the income stream. Given this fact, unlike SPIA’s and lifetime DIA’s, FIA’s will have a death benefit available from day 1 that continues for much of the life of the FIA.

Once income begins, the accumulation value, i.e., death benefit, will decrease by the amount of income withdrawals in addition to the income rider charge. An optional death benefit rider can be added to the contract at the time of purchase to provide a guaranteed death benefit that will be paid even if there’s no accumulation value.

A fixed index annuity with an income rider is truly a unique retirement income planning tool. Unlike other types of fixed annuities where income begins immediately, i.e., SPIA’s, or at a contractually fixed date in the future, i.e., DIA’s, a FIA income start date is totally flexible. In addition, unlike SPIA’s and DIA’s which are only about lifetime income, FIA’s include an investment value. Furthermore, the investment value has built-in downside protection. Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Is It Time to Take Some Chips Off the Table?

For those of you looking forward to reading Part 2 of the New Tax Law – Don’t Let the Tax Tail Wag the Dog post, my apologies to you. It will be published next week. After the recent surge in stock prices with the notable exception of Apple, which has lost 265 points, or 38% of its value, in just four months from its September 21st high of 705.07 to its close of 439.88 this past Friday, I feel compelled to write and publish this post first.

I was in Las Vegas attending a professional conference last week which may have been the impetus for the title of this post. As an investment advisor, when I see the Dow Jones Industrial Average increase by 792 points, or 6%, from its December 31st close of 13,104.14 to Friday’s close of 13,895.98 in less than one month, including 13 out of 17 sessions when the closing price has exceeded that of the previous day with 7 consecutive daily increases through Friday, on top of a 7.3% increase in 2012, I take notice. The phrase “reversion to the mean” comes to mind.

As a retirement income planner, I look for windows of opportunity for my clients to transfer, what amounts to slivers of their investment portfolio in many cases, from the unpredictable fluctuations of the stock market to conservative investments that are designed to provide guaranteed income* payable over a specified period of time that they can depend on throughout retirement. This includes single premium immediate annuities (“SPIA’s”), deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”), and fixed index annuities (“FIA’s”) with income riders. Since my crystal ball shattered years ago, I don’t try to time the market to determine when it has peaked in order to recommend and perform this heroic service for my clients.

While my clients are unanimously very happy with the recent increased value of their portfolios, I know from many years of experience that this state of euphoria is often short-lived. The reality is that their equity allocation is more than what is targeted for their portfolio in several cases. As a result, the risk associated with their portfolio is greater than what is appropriate for their risk tolerance level. This is inevitably a ticking time bomb unless corrective action is taken in a timely manner.

Shifting a portion of a managed investment portfolio to guaranteed income* at opportune moments has proven to be a winning strategy for my clients within 20 years of, or in, retirement. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Each time that a client implements this recommendation, he/she accomplishes two important goals shared by all individuals doing retirement income planning: (a) portfolio risk reduction and (b) decreased likelihood of running out of money in retirement.

Although I haven’t done any formal large-scale studies, I can confidently state from personal and client experience that this generally results in reduced short- and long-term stress levels, fewer cases of insomnia, and less health issues in general for those individuals who implement this strategy compared to those who don’t. This unequivocally trumps the short-term euphoria associated with increased portfolio values in a bull market.

Let Apple’s recent experience be a lesson for us all. Don’t be afraid to take some chips off the table, especially when your retirement, health, and happiness are at stake.

*Subject to the claims-paying ability of individual insurance carriers

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Retirement Income Planner Key to Success When Investing in Fixed Index Annuities

Last week’s post presented a list of 12 questions you should ask yourself when considering the purchase of fixed index annuities (“FIA’s”). As evidenced by the questions, themselves, as well as the number of questions, this is a very technical area that requires specialized expertise.

So where do you find answers to the various questions? Assuming that investment in one or more FIA’s makes sense in your financial situation, where should you go to purchase these long-term investments? The remainder of this post will assume that you’re considering FIA’s in the context of a retirement income plan.

Unlike investing in the stock market, where you can utilize the services of an investment manager or be a do-it-yourselfer, you must purchase fixed index annuities from a licensed life insurance agent who has the requisite training to sell annuities. Life insurance agents can sell different types of insurance products, including life, disability, and long-term care insurance, as well as annuities. Life insurance companies, life insurance agents, types of products, and the specific products that can be sold, are regulated by an insurance body in each state.

Not every life insurance agent sells annuities. Some only sell variable annuities. Furthermore, there are several different types of fixed annuities, including single premium deferred annuities (“SPDA’s”), single premium immediate annuities (“SPIA’s), deferred income annuities (“DIA’s), and FIA’s. FIA’s are a unique type of fixed annuity that requires specialized expertise and training, and, as such, aren’t offered by every life insurance agent who sells fixed annuities.

Since a FIA is a unique long-term investment with several moving parts in the base product as well as the income rider that change on a regular basis in response to market conditions, it’s important to work with an independent life insurance agent who has access to at least two dozen FIA’s offered by at least six different highly-rated life insurance companies, and sells them on a regular basis.

Going beyond locating a life insurance agent who (a) sells annuities, (b) sells fixed annuities, (c) sells FIA’s, and (d) is an independent agent with access to several different FIA’s offered by several different highly-rated life insurance companies, there are other considerations to keep in mind before purchasing a FIA. First and foremost, you need to recognize and understand the fact that retirement income planning is a specialized discipline, it’s complicated, there are many risks that need to be considered, and mistakes can be costly.

Given the fact that the purchase of a FIA with an income rider for retirement income planning purposes is typically a lifetime investment that often requires a large upfront financial commitment and potentially ongoing periodic investments, it’s especially important that you work with the right individual. Specifically, the person you choose should be a professional retirement income planner. What exactly is a retirement income planner? Sounds like the subject of another post.

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FIAs With Income Riders vs. DIAs: Which is Right for You? – Part 3 of 5

I hope that you’re enjoying this series so far comparing two innovative retirement income planning tools – fixed index annuities (“FIAs”) with income riders and deferred income annuities (“DIAs”). Of the 12 features offered by FIAs with income riders that are listed in Part 1, we’ve looked at three features that are also offered by DIAs, and five that aren’t applicable to DIAs.

This post will discuss the remaining four features that are applicable to DIAs on a limited basis. They are as follows:

  1. Known future income amount at time of initial and ongoing investments
  2. Flexible income start date
  3. Greater income amount the longer you defer your income start date
  4. Death benefit

Known Future Income Amount at Time of Initial and Ongoing Investments

One of the really cool things about fixed income annuities from a retirement income planning perspective is the ability to structure a guaranteed (subject to the claims paying ability of individual life insurance companies) income stream to match one’s income needs. In the case of both FIA’s with income riders and DIA’s, the amount of the future income stream is known at the time of initial and ongoing investments.

When you purchase a DIA, a known amount of income, with or without an annual inflation factor, will be paid to you as an annuity beginning at a specified future date for either a specified number of months or for life, either single or joint as applicable. With traditional DIA’s, you make a one-time investment; however, there are a handful of products that offer you the ability to make ongoing investments.

Unlike traditional DIA’s where you generally make a single investment and you receive a specified amount of income beginning at a specified date, FIA’s with income riders have more variations. For one thing, assuming you’re working with a flexible– vs. a single-premium FIA, you have the ability to make ongoing investments in a single FIA. In addition, the income start date, which will be discussed in the next section, is flexible. While the future income amount is known at the time of initial and ongoing investments, both of these variables combine to offer a much broader range of possibilities than a traditional DIA when it comes to the income withdrawal amount.

Flexible Income Start Date

All FIAs with income riders have a flexible income start date with the ability to begin income withdrawals either in the year of purchase or one year from the date of purchase assuming you’ve reached a specified age, generally 50. There’s no requirement with FIA income riders to commit to the income start date at the time of purchase, and, furthermore, you don’t have to ever start taking income withdrawals if you choose not to do so.

Per the previous section, traditional DIAs begin their income payouts at a specified future date. There are some nontraditional DIAs that provide for a flexible income start date similar to FIAs with income riders.

Greater Income Amount the Longer You Defer Your Income Start Date

With all fixed income annuities where the income isn’t payable during the first year, i.e., single premium immediate annuities, or “SPIAs,” the longer you defer your income start date, the greater the amount of income you will receive. This is true whether the income payment is for a fixed term, as it is with some DIAs, or if it’s for life.

FIAs with income riders, with their built-in flexible income start date, include this feature. In order to obtain this benefit with a traditional DIA, you need to choose a later income start date at the time of purchase.

Death Benefit

Income withdrawal is an optional rider with FIAs. The base product has an accumulation value that’s increased by initial and ongoing investments, premium bonuses, and interest credits and is decreased by withdrawals and surrender and income rider charges. To the extent that there’s accumulation value remaining upon the death of the owner(s), it’s paid to the contract’s beneficiaries as a death benefit.

Traditional DIAs may or may not include a death benefit prior to annuitization. Once annuitization occurs, there’s generally no death benefit payable. If you opt for a traditional DIA that includes a death benefit before annuitization, the amount of the benefit will generally be equal to your investment amount; however, the tradeoff will be a reduced income amount than would otherwise be payable by a similar product that doesn’t include a death benefit.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

10 Fixed Index Annuity Income Calculation Variables

The last five weeks’ posts have focused on what you don’t receive (Your Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider – What You Don’t Receive – Parts 1 and 2 and Annuitization Tax Treatment of Nonretirement Distributions) and what you do receive (5 Things You Receive From a Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider – Parts 1 and 2) when you purchase a fixed index annuity income rider.

As stated in Part 1 of 5 Things You Receive From a Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider, there are three types of fixed income annuities that offer lifetime income payments: (a) single-premium immediate annuities, or “SPIA’s,” (b) deferred income annuities, or “DIA’s,” and (c) fixed index annuities, or “FIA’s.”

Per Part 2 of the same post, product-specific illustration software must be used to determine the periodic payment that you will receive from SPIA’s and DIA’s given certain specified assumptions. The reason for this is that the payment from both of these types of fixed income annuities is an annuity that must be actuarially calculated using a life expectancy factor amongst other variables.

The lifetime payment that you receive from a FIA, unlike a SPIA or DIA, isn’t an annuity that’s actuarially determined. In order to receive a FIA lifetime payment, you must purchase an income rider which is a separate component of a FIA contract. While it’s possible to annuitize the accumulation value of the base contract, distributions from the income rider are considered to be withdrawals.

So how are FIA income amounts determined? In addition to the accumulation value of a FIA which is the value of your investment before reduction for potential surrender charges, there’s generally a separate income account value when you purchase a FIA income rider. Unlike the accumulation value, withdrawals cannot be made from the income account value. The latter is used instead to determine your FIA income, or lifetime retirement paycheck (“LRP”) amount.

There are ten potential variables that are used to calculate the FIA income amount as follows:

  1. Initial and subsequent investment amounts
  2. Premium bonus availability
  3. Income account value interest rate
  4. Number of years income account value interest rate is in effect
  5. Lifetime payment election date
  6. Maximum lifetime income withdrawal percentage
  7. Accumulation value withdrawal amounts and timing of same
  8. Surrender charge schedule
  9. Premium bonus recapture provision
  10. Death of owner prior to commencement of income payments

In order to help you understand how a FIA income amount is calculated, FIA income calculation variables will be the topic of Retirement Income Visions™ posts for the next several weeks.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

5 Things You Receive From a Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider – Part 2 of 2

Part 1 of this post last week made the point that fixed income annuity, or “FIA,” riders are a dream-come-true for a retirement income planner like me since it enables me to offer a unique solution for meeting clients’ income needs that isn’t available elsewhere from other investment products. It emphasized that the five things you receive from a FIA income rider, when taken as a whole, cannot be duplicated by any other investment.

The first two features, guaranteed income and flexible lifetime retirement paycheck, or “LRP,” start date were the subject of last week’s post. This week we’ll take a look at the other three features.

Potential for Increased Lifetime Retirement Paycheck (“LRP”) Amount

Tied directly to benefit #2, flexible lifetime retirement paycheck, or “LRP,” start date, is a third important perk that’s associated with a FIA income rider – potential for increased LRP amount. The longer you wait to begin receiving your LRP, the greater your income will be.

There are several reasons for this which will be the topic of a future blog post. Suffice it to say that the difference in annual income can be significant depending upon the variables of a particular case. In one of my recent proposals for a married couple, the potential annual income ranged between $46,000 and $100,000 depending upon whether they began taking income at the husband’s age 65 or 75.

Ability to Calculate an LRP Amount on the Date of Purchase

As a retirement income planner, either my life insurance agency or I can run an illustration using the software for a particular product for the first two types of fixed income annuities discussed in last week’s post, i.e., (a) single-premium immediate annuities, or “SPIA’s,” and (b) deferred income annuities, or “DIA’s,” to determine the periodic payment that my client will receive given certain specified assumptions. This can only be done using product-specific software.

While there’s also product-specific software available for all FIA’s that can be used to determine an LRP amount assuming the purchase of an income rider, I’m not dependent on it. Given my client’s initial and potential subsequent investment amounts, including frequency of same, I can independently calculate his/her potential LRP amount beginning at various ages for different FIA products to determine which one(s) would be best suited for meeting my client’s needs. This capability enables my client to know how much income he/she will receive beginning at various ages before making any investment.

Ability to Adjust Initial and Ongoing Investment Amount to Match One’s Income Needs

While it’s great to be able to know the annual income amount you will receive beginning in 15 years assuming you invest $200,000 today with annual additions of $20,000 for the next five years and further assuming that you’re 52 now, it’s preferable from a retirement income planning perspective to be able to do the reverse calculation. That is, assuming that when you retire at 67 with an annual income need of $100,000 and you’re projected to receive $25,000 from Social Security and $30,000 from another source, how much do you need to invest today and for the next 15 years in order to close your income need gap of $45,000 ($100,000 – $55,000)?

A fixed index annuity with an income rider is a wonderful tool to use in this situation. It can be used to calculate a single lump sum amount that is required to match your income needs as well as a smaller initial investment with subsequent periodic investment amounts.

As stated at the conclusion of Part 1, the foregoing three features, together with guaranteed lifetime income and a flexible LRP start date, distinguishes FIA income riders as a powerful and unique addition to an otherwise conservative investment product with the potential for meeting a retiree’s ongoing income needs.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

5 Things You Receive From a Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider – Part 1 of 2

As the saying goes, it’s better to give than to receive. With this in mind, the last three week’s posts focused on what you don’t receive when you purchase an income rider with a fixed index annuity, or “FIA.” With Christmas and Hanukkah just behind us as I write this week’s post, it’s time to take a look at what you receive from this optional addition to your FIA.

Let’s start with some basic terminology. Although many life insurance companies refer to it as an income rider, you will also see the phrase, guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit rider, or “GMWB” rider, for short. The latter terminology is simply another name for an income rider.

FIA income riders are a dream-come-true for a retirement income planner like me since it enables me to offer a unique solution for meeting clients’ income needs that isn’t available elsewhere from other investment products. Specifically, a FIA income rider has the following five features that, when taken as a whole, cannot be duplicated by any other investment:

  1. Guaranteed, subject to individual life insurance company claims-paying abilities, lifetime income or lifetime retirement paycheck (“LRP”)
  2. Flexible LRP start date
  3. Potential for increased LRP amount
  4. Ability to calculate an LRP amount on the date of purchase
  5. Ability to adjust initial and ongoing investment amount to match one’s income needs.

While all features except for #2 are available with other types of fixed income annuities, there are no other investment products that offer all five in one package. The first two features are the subject of this week’s post, with features #3 – #5 discussed in Part 2 next week.

Guaranteed Lifetime Income

A FIA income rider is designed to create lifetime income, or a lifetime retirement paycheck, or “LRP.” Moreover, since it’s being paid by a life insurance company, it’s intended to be a guaranteed payment, subject to each individual company’s claims-paying ability. While this is a wonderful feature from a retirement income planning perspective, it’s one that’s common to all fixed income annuities. As such, in and of itself, it isn’t a unique feature of FIA income riders.

Flexible LRP Start Date

When it comes to lifetime income payments, there are three types of fixed income annuities that offer this: (a) single-premium immediate annuities, or “SPIA’s,” (b) deferred income annuities, or “DIA’s,” and (c) fixed index annuities, or “FIA’s.” The LRP start date for SPIA’s is one month after purchase. LRP’s from DIA’s are deferred to a contractually specified date that can be any time beginning at least one year after date of purchase. Whether you purchase a SPIA or a DIA, your start date is locked in when you make your investment.

When you purchase an income rider with a FIA, on the other hand, your LRP start date is flexible. Furthermore, unlike SPIA’s and DIA’s, you aren’t required to lock in your start date when you purchase your FIA. With all FIA’s, there’s a one-year waiting period between the effective date of the income rider and the date when you may begin to receive your LRP. The effective date of the rider is always the same as the effective date of your FIA contract since an income rider must be added to your contract when your purchase a FIA. In addition to waiting a year to begin your LRP, with most FIA’s, you must also be at least 50 years old.

The foregoing two features, in and of themselves, would make for a very nice retirement income planning solution. As you will learn next week, this is just the tip of the iceberg that distinguishes FIA income riders as a powerful and unique addition to an otherwise conservative investment product with the potential for meeting a retiree’s ongoing income needs.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

No Pension? Create Your Own

Last week’s post, A Retirement Paycheck is Essential, emphasized that it’s imperative for each and every one of us to have a retirement income plan. The cornerstone of a retirement income plan is a retirement paycheck. Specifically, we need to know that when we stop working, we will receive a predetermined monthly payment for the rest of our life, and, if married, our spouse’s life. Furthermore, this monthly payment needs to be in addition to whatever Social Security benefits we may receive.

Given the fact that the majority of us won’t receive a pension from an employer’s defined benefit plan that our parents’ generation took for granted (see the November 21, 2011 post, Where Have All the Pensions Gone?), it’s incumbent upon us to create our own retirement paycheck. This isn’t an task and generally requires the assistance of an experienced retirement income planner.

As pointed out in the Where Have All the Pensions Gone? Post, the nature of many investment vehicles don’t lend themselves to plan for a predictable known future lifetime or joint lifetime stream of income. This is true, for example, whether you’re talking about a savings account, CD, bond, stock, mutual fund, or exchange traded fund.

Fortunately, there exists a long-standing, reliable, conservative investment solution that’s specifically designed to provide us with a predetermined monthly payment for the rest of our life. The payment will be made without interruption, no matter how the stock market is performing. This investment solution is commonly known as a fixed income annuity and is offered exclusively by life insurance companies.

Unlike a traditional defined benefit pension plan that pays a defined stream of income that generally doesn’t change beginning at retirement age and ending at death, a fixed income annuity strategy can be quite flexible. There are several types of fixed income annuities that can be used to customize a retirement income plan that dovetails with one’s retirement income needs. This entails both timing and amount of payment, including adjustment for inflation.

There are two broad classes of fixed income annuities that are distinguished by the timing of the commencement of the initial income payment: (a) single premium immediate and (b) deferred. A feature shared by both types of annuities is “annuitization,” or the conversion of an annuity to an irrevocable structured payment plan with a specified payout by a life 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.

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 name “immediate.”

The second broad class of fixed income annuities, deferred income annuities, or “DIAs,” although they play an important role in a retirement income plan, aren’t as prevalent in the marketplace as SPIAs. Like SPIAs, DIAs pay periodic income for a specified period of time or over one’s lifetime or joint lifetimes as applicable. Unlike SPIAs, the start date of the payments for DIAs is deferred for at least 13 months from the date of investment.

SPIAs and DIAs can be used alone or in combination to create a retirement paycheck. In addition, a rider, or endorsement, can be added to a fixed index annuity to generate a retirement paycheck. This retirement income planning strategy, which is striking a chord with more and more people the last few years, will be introduced in next week’s post.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Mirror Your Retirement Income Needs With Period Certain Annuities

One of the most difficult financial planning challenges for any financial planner when planning for any goal, retirement or otherwise, is screening, performing due diligence on, and selecting, financial products that have the greatest potential for helping a client attain his/her goals while being suited to the client’s investment temperament. This is especially true when it comes to retirement income planning given the fact that the planner’s mission is to (1) find a way to use assets to create predictable, inflation-protected, and whenever possible, tax-efficient, income streams that, (2) when combined with other sources of income (Social Security, pensions, etc.), are designed to match a client’s projected and unknown (e.g., potential uninsured long-term care expense) retirement income needs for an unknown period of time (i.e., the remainder of one or more lives), (3) while also retaining a portion of those assets to pay for lump-sum expenses (e.g., car purchases, home improvements, weddings, etc.), and (4) to also accomplish the client’s estate planning (e.g., leave money to children and/or to charitable organizations) and other objectives. Suffice it to say, this isn’t an easy task, to say the least!

Two weeks ago, Annuitization Payment Option: The Financial Decision You Will Live With for the Rest of Your Life introduced a financial strategy, annuitization, for generating guaranteed (subject to individual insurers’ claims-paying ability) and tax-favored (when used in nonretirement accounts) income, often for life. It discussed the four types of annuitization payment options available with annuity contracts:  life annuity, life annuity with guaranteed payment, joint and survivor annuity, and period certain. Last week’s blog post, Lifetime Annuity Payout – Watch Out! explained that, while a life annuity payment option offers the security of lifetime payments, there are several downsides associated with this choice. As pointed out, one of the most notable is that it won’t provide for different and distinct income streams to match your retirement income needs.

The fourth type of annuitization payment option, period certain, or term certain, as it is often referred, offers perhaps the greatest potential of any type of investment strategy to provide guaranteed (subject to the individual insurers’ claims-paying ability) income to mirror retirement income needs over defined periods of time. Under this option, a life insurance company is obligated to make periodic payments to an annuitant for a specified number of months or years. The payments, which can be inflation-adjusted, can begin today, through either annuitization of an existing annuity contract or purchase of a single premium immediate annuity (“SPIA”), or at some future date at least 13 months from today, via purchase of one or more deferred income annuity (“DIA”) contracts.

Whether the period certain annuity begins today or sometime in the future, it will always be a specified payment for a specified period of time, e.g., $2,500 a month for ten years. Unlike any other type of annuitization payment option, you will always know the total payout, e.g., $300,000 in the previous example ($2,500 x 12 months x 10 years) that you will receive from a period certain annuity before you purchase it. This, in turn, provides you with the ability to precisely calculate an internal rate of return on your investment and, furthermore, compare it to other fixed-rate return investments. The internal rate of return is often provided by life insurance companies in their pre-sale illustrations.

Because of their flexibility to begin and end at any time, combined with the ability to increase payments by an inflation factor, period certain annuities can be structured to dovetail with the amount, frequency, and duration of other income sources to enable better and more predictable matching of total income to one’s retirement lifestyle needs than with most other types of investments. As an added benefit, in the case of nonretirement assets, a portion of each payment is nontaxable since it’s considered to be a return of principle.

Finally, unlike the life annuity payment option whereby payments terminate upon the annuitant’s death, payments from period certain annuities are made dead or alive. If an annuitant dies during the payout term, the life insurance company will continue to make the same payments that were being made to the annuitant to the annuitant’s beneficiary until the end of the specified term.

If your objective is to find a financial product that will provide you with predictable, inflation-protected, tax-efficient (in the case of nonretirement assets) income streams that, when combined with other sources of income, will have a high likelihood of matching your retirement income needs, you would be hard-pressed not to include one or more period certain annuities as part of your solution.