Annuities Celebration Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Retirement Income Visions Celebrates 3-Year Anniversary!

Thanks to my clients, subscribers, and other readers, Retirement Income Visions™ is celebrating its three-year anniversary. Retirement Income Visions™ has published a weekly post each Monday morning, the theme of which is Innovative Strategies for Creating and Optimizing Retirement Income™.

As stated in the initial post on August 16, 2009, Retirement Income Visions™ Makes Its Debut, the importance of retirement income planning as a separate and distinct discipline from traditional retirement planning was magnified during the October, 2007 – March, 2009 stock market decline. Just ask anyone who retired just prior to, or during, this period that didn’t have a retirement income plan in place when he/she retired.

With increasing life expectancies, record-low interest rates, traditional pension plans going by the wayside, soaring health and long-term care costs, and the potential for inflation, retirement income planning is no longer an option. It has become a necessity for anyone who wants to ensure that he/she will have sufficient income to meet his/her expenses for the duration of retirement. Recognizing this fact, The American College launched its Retirement Income Certified Professional™ (RICP™) program earlier this year in which I was one of the first enrollees.

Since its inception, Retirement Income Visions™ has used a themed approach, with several weeks of posts focusing on a relevant retirement income planning strategy. This year was no exception. The weekly posts, together with the customized Glossary of Terms, which currently includes definitions of 137 terms to assist in the understanding of technical subject matter, has contributed to a growing body of knowledge in the relatively new retirement income planning profession.

While the first two years of Retirement Income Visions™ presented a variety of retirement income planning strategies, fixed index annuities, or “FIA’s,” have been the sole focus of virtually every weekly post for the past 13 months. Continuing a theme that began on July 11, 2011 during the second year of publication with Shelter a Portion of Your Portfolio From the Next Stock Market Freefall, the inner workings of FIA’s, including their unique benefits as a retirement income planning solution, has been discussed in detail. As a result, Retirement Income Visions™ has become an authoritative source of information on this important and timely topic.

Although FIA’s has been the theme of almost every post for over a year, the posts have been organized by a number of sub-themes. Following the July 11, 2011 post, the introduction to the FIA strategy continued with the next five posts, Looking for Upside Potential With Downside Protection – Take a Look at Indexed Annuities (July 18, 2011), Limit Your Losses to Zero (July 25, 2011), Do You Want to Limit Your Potential Gains? (August 1, 2011), When is the Best Time to Invest in Indexed Annuities? (August 8, 2011), and How Does Your Fixed Index Annuity Grow? (August 22, 2011).

The next twelve posts, beginning with the August 29, 2011 post, Indexing Strategies – The Key to Fixed Index Annuity Growth, through the November 14, 2011 post, How to Get Interest Credited to Your Fixed Index Annuity When the Market Declines, presented a thorough discussion of the various traditional fixed index annuity indexing strategies. This included an introduction to, and comparison of, the following indexing methods: annual point-to-point, monthly point-to-point, monthly average, trigger indexing, inverse performance trigger indexing, as well as the fixed account that’s included as one of the strategy choices by virtually every FIA.

Moving beyond the base product, the subject of the next nine posts was an introduction to the income rider that’s offered by many FIA’s. The income, or guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit (“GMWB”), rider is the mechanism for providing guaranteed (subject to the claims-paying ability of individual life insurance companies) lifetime income with a flexible start date that is essential to so many retirement income plans. This kicked off with the enlightening December 5, 2011 and December 12, 2011 posts, No Pension? Create Your Own and Add an Income Rider to Your Fixed Index Annuity to Create a Retirement Paycheck. The introduction to income rider series also included two two-part series, Your Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider – What You Don’t Receive (December 19, 2011 and December 26, 2011) and 5 Things You Receive From a Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider (January 9, 2012 and January 16, 2012).

Following two posts introducing fixed index annuity income calculation variables on January 23, 2012 and January 30, 2012 (10 Fixed Index Annuity Income Calculation Variables and Contractual vs. Situation Fixed Index Annuity Income Calculation Variables), a five-part series ensued revolving around a topic often misunderstood by the general public — premium bonuses. The posts in this series included 8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Analyzing Premium Bonuses (February 6, 2012), What’s a Reasonable Premium Bonus Percentage? (February 13, 2012), How Will a Premium Bonus Affect a Fixed Index Annuity’s Value? (February 20, 2012), How Will Withdrawals Affect Your Premium Bonus? (February 27, 2012), and How Will a Premium Bonus Affect Your Fixed Index Annuity Income Distribution? (March 5, 2012).

The next five posts delved into the inner workings behind the variables and interaction of variables behind the calculation of income withdrawal amounts from FIA income riders. This included the following posts: Income Account Value vs. Accumulation Value – What’s the Difference? (March 19, 2012), How is Your Fixed Index Annuity’s Income Account Value Calculated? (April 2, 2012), How Much Income Will You Receive From Your Fixed Index Annuity? (April 9, 2012), and a two-part series, Don’t Be Fooled by Interest Rates – It’s a Package Deal (April 16, 2012 and April 23, 2012).

When Should You Begin Your Lifetime Retirement Payout? was the subject of a two-part series (May 7, 2012 and May 14, 2012) followed by another timing question, When Should You Begin Investing in Income Rider Fixed Index Annuities? (May 21, 2012).

The May 28, 2012 through June 18, 2012 four-part series, Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider Similarities to Social Security, was a well-received and timely topic. This was followed by a second five-part comparison series beginning on June 25, 2012 and continuing through July 23, 2012, FIA’s With Income Riders vs. DIA’s: Which is Right for You?

The last two weeks’ posts have addressed the topic of valuation of a FIA’s income rider stream. This included the July 30, 2012 post, What is the Real Value of Your Fixed Index Annuity, and the August 6, 2012 post, Why Isn’t the Value of Your Income Stream Shown on Your Fixed Index Annuity Statement?.

As I did in my August 9, 2010 and August 15, 2011 “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, thank you to Nira, my incredible wife, for her enduring support of my blog writing and other professional activities.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

Which is the Best Fixed Index Annuity Indexing Method?

Beginning with the August 22, 2011 post, How Does Your Fixed Index Annuity Grow?fixed index annuity strategies, and, in particular, indexing methods, have been the focus of the last nine posts. The last four posts explained four methods, with the first three being the most widely used:

  1. 1. Annual point-to-point cap method
  2. 2. Monthly point-to-point cap method, or monthly sum crediting method
  3. 3. Monthly average method
  4. 4. Trigger Indexing method

Each of these methods is used to determine the amount of interest that’s credited to a fixed index annuity each year. So which of these four methods is the best one? Is there one method that consistently produces superior results and should be favored over the others?

Let’s take a look at the variables associated with all four methods in order to answer this question. There are three key variables as follows:

  1. Contract date
  2. Stock market index
  3. Cap rate

Contract Date

As emphasized in the September 6, 2011 post, Contract Date – The Driver of Fixed Index Annuity Performance, no matter which stock market index(es) and indexing method(s) is (are) chosen, interest crediting is first, and foremost, driven by the contract date, or the date on which the contract is effective. Since interest is credited to a fixed index annuity based on the performance during a particular contract year, and not a calendar year, there are generally 365 potential measuring periods. Given this fact, even if the same stock market index and indexing method is chosen for the same product, the amount of interest that is credited during a particular year to each contract could be different depending upon the contract date.

Stock Market Index

As discussed in the August 29, 2011 post, Indexing Strategies – The Key to Fixed Index Annuity Growth, in addition to choosing an indexing method, you need to choose a stock market index as part of selecting an indexing strategy. There are typically several choices offered, with the most common one being the Standard & Poor’s, or S&P, 500 Index. While the performance of some indexes may be similar, e.g., the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, there are often differences from index to index. Furthermore, the differences will be dependent upon the individual contract date.

Cap Rate

As explained in the Glossary of Terms, a cap rate is a preset limit on the percentage of indexed growth that is used to calculate interest credited to a fixed index annuity under the annual point-to-point, monthly point-to-point or monthly sum, and monthly average crediting methods. Each product has different cap rates depending upon the features associated with the product. As a general rule, the longer the term of the particular fixed index annuity, the higher the cap rates, all else being equal. In addition, life insurance companies have the right to change cap rates and periodically do so in response to changes in the interest rate environment.


As you can see, there are many moving parts that come into play when calculating the amount of interest that will be credited to any fixed index annuity during a particular contract year. Even when identical indexing methods and cap rates are used, small differences in contract dates can result in different interest crediting amounts. Although generalizations can be, and are often, made about the performance of different indexing methods during different market conditions, no one can predict how a particular method will perform during any contract year.

A great example of this was demonstrated in Exhibit 1 of the October 3, 2011 post, Monthly vs. Annual Point-to-Point Fixed Index Annuity Indexing Method. Using the monthly point-to-point method, even though nine out of twelve months experienced positive changes, with 3% or greater changes for six of the nine months, the combination of the monthly cap of 1.8% plus sizeable negative changes for the three negative months resulted in total monthly capped changes of -6.4%, with 0% interest being credited. The annual point-to-point cap method, with its interest crediting of 4%, proved to be the better solution in this particular situation.