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?