The latest issue of Barron’s proclaims to know and list the Top 50 Annuities. Being the Annuity Guys® that we are, we quickly located the article and tables to find out if they were right. What criteria would they use to choose the very best. Finally we would have the answer that all of our readers and callers need so desperately.
Unfortunately, their best in class annuities may do more harm than help.
Annuity Guys® – Dick and Eric, evaluate Barron’s Top 50 annuity article and their best in class annuity selections.
**Guarantees, including optional benefits, are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuer, and may contain limitations, including surrender charges, which may affect policy values. During this segment, Dick and Eric are referring to Fixed Annuities unless otherwise specified.
Don’t get us wrong, we are grateful that this publication largely dedicated to investing in stocks and bonds or other securities has dedicated some time to cover a financial instrument that should be considered for at least a portion of most retirement portfolios that need safety, income and modest growth. However, consumers hoping to find answers about the top annuities will only know a small part of the story. Their hypothetical examples only apply to a very tiny segment of the annuity buying population.
While we hate sounding like a broken record, you should know that with annuities there is not a “one-size fits all” model. Sure you can use a list like the one found in Barron’s to ask for a comparison, but an expert advisor who specializes in income and retirement planning will be more likely to come up with better annuity choices when your specific scenario is fairly considered.
Here is an excerpt from the Barron’s article that made us shake our heads sideways.
The once-dominant variable annuity# is getting a bit of competition from cheaper iterations. These stripped-down products offer some surprising advantages, though.
Armand Baughman, 71, a retired Continental Airlines pilot of Valley View, Texas, has always viewed annuities as too complex, illiquid, and expensive to warrant his consideration. But last year, he socked $200,000 into a tax-deferred variable annuity#, calling it “the best thing since Cracker Jacks.”
What changed? As part of an effort to lift sagging profits after years of challenging market conditions, firms are giving the oft-maligned annuity a makeover: an ultralow-cost, variable annuity# that offers a broad array of alternative investments, including hedge funds, currency funds, managed futures, and other strategies.
Annuity companies are trying to make a comeback after years of struggling to remain financially sound under the cloud of low interest rates and high stock-market volatility. With annuity sales down 8.4% last year, to $211.8 billion, the lowest level since 2005, annuity providers are aggressively designing and marketing annuities that — like the low-cost variable annuities# — appeal to very specific investor goals or needs.
“For years, companies offered products that tried to do everything at once — give the highest rates, best liquidity, best income **guarantees, and benefits,” says Ken Nuss, founder of AnnuityAdvantage.com, which has free listings of fixed index and income annuities. “But that’s over. They’re getting better at fulfilling a specific goal more effectively.”
To help sort through a breadth of products, Barron’s surveyed annuity companies and industry experts to come up with the 50 most competitive contracts in popular annuity categories. The results, based on common investor assumptions and goals, are detailed in the table, right.
Low-cost variable annuities# with alternative investments earned a new category entry in the top-50 survey this year, thanks to the growing number of these contracts and their potential benefits to investors.
ANNUITIES, WHICH ARE TAX-DEFERRED INVESTMENT vehicles that allow you to turn on an income stream either immediately or years from now, come in two basic categories: Variable annuities have payouts that fluctuate along with their underlying investments; fixed annuities offer a **guaranteed interest rate for a specified number of years. [Read the full article at Barron’s]
Dick: Hello, I’m Dick.
Eric: And I’m Eric and we’re the annuity guys. Today Dick, we’re going to look at best in class annuities. Now, that sounds awfully high pollutant there. What’s best in class mean? Sounds like a horse racing term.
Dick: Well, Eric, one of the problems that we’ve had in our videos and we’ve been criticized at times; we had folks say…
Dick: Why don’t you guys tell us what a company; which annuity and that type of thing? Well, let’s just give some disclosure here. Folks were in the most tightly regulated, most highly compliant industry; and if we start mentioning company’s names, we actually have to go out to get their approval first.
Eric: We need a lot more leave time to be able to tell you what the company name is.
Dick: Before we can do a video.
Eric: We have to get approved by the company and then they take about six weeks to banter back and forth; and then they come back, they usually say, no.
Dick: And then there’s another problem, if we start mentioning companies Eric…
Eric: Because it’s wrong as soon as we say it.
Dick: After we’ve said it, it’s wrong the next day. And that’s because the best in class annuities; Eric and I have certain annuities that we tend to favor or better than others, and certain companies…
Eric: It’s based off of historical performance that typically is better than others
Dick: But we may have a client one week that’s pretty similar to a client two or three weeks later; and we have to use a different product because some things either change with that annuity or that person’s situation is just a little bit different.
Eric: That’s right. It can be as simple as one is male, one is female. You would think there would not be that much difference?
Dick: So, what got us going on this subject today?
Eric: Well, It varies. I love them, but I hate them right now. You know it’s nice of an investment kind of publication that we typically think up to feature annuities in the top fifty annuities on the cover of that…
Dick: Well, they’re so biased. A lot of times they won’t even talk about annuities.
Eric: That’s right. So, we love the fact that they’ve decided talking about you which are the top fifty annuities. Now, I’ll have you know, they’re wrong.
Dick: Take it with a grain of salt and read it with a critical eye.
Eric: That’s right because as soon as I look at their list, I said “oh no!” Now, they had to make assumptions. They assume within their first section here that everybody two hundred thousand dollars exactly.
Dick: They’re all sixty years old.
Eric: Six-years-old and male. So, this list is probably very good for the time the article was written if you’re sixty and had two hundred thousand dollars. Now, if you’re 63 and female, the list is wrong.
Dick: Or all you have is two hundred thousand in your name; or what if you had a million to your name? All those variables change. Suddenly, that isn’t the right annuity because there’s other reasons you’d be doing this.
Eric: So, it did address some of the issues in the different pieces but we would tell you that when you first look at this, don’t assume everything here is going to apply to your situation. There’s typically not just one best annuity.
Dick: No! And then when you start talking about working with an advisor that really gets it, they’re going to take a much more sophisticated approach and it’s good not going to be one best in class annuity; it’s going to be three or four or five; and they’re going to have to all work together.
Eric: Right. It’s a balancing act of usually giving you an option. Maybe this one is lower rated but has a slightly better pay out for what your intention is.
Dick: Yes, yes.
Eric: This one has a higher rating but maybe slightly lower or may have to hold it a little bit longer…
Dick: This piece over here works well in a tax-free environment for growth and there’s the maybe starting a portfolio out of a good immediate annuity might make sense out there. So, again, being able to structure this properly, I would say to get best in class annuities, there’s no substitute for working with an expert.
Eric: And that’s where you rely on somebody in their expertise to define for you, what fits your situation. I know I sat down and run numbers and I’ve had what I thought was going to be the best one going in. And all of a sudden I said I run numbers and for this particular unique situation it had to be somebody that was exactly this year old and got to hold it for this long, one specific annuity all of a sudden jumps out of package you never expect. Nothing pay’s to go back and look at the analysis and…
Dick: Exactly. And it doesn’t hurt folks; never, never think that Eric and I are saying “don’t do your own research.” Look at the company’s ratings; get in our rate vault and look at all of the different annuities and the different features, and ratings, that type of thing; and do some comparison. But then, there comes a point where you do get involved with a an expert, an agent that works with these on a regular basis; and they’ll be able to look at the subtleties, the real differences and that’s where you really can find the best in class annuities.
Eric: And as we’ve spoken, there’s no reason why you can’t pull out a list like this and say “hey, what about company X here? I see that they were best in class on variance. What’s that look like?” The advisor can then run the numbers give you the idea of why what they’re proposing may be better or you know…
Dick: Eric, even with our expertise, we’ve had situations where somebody’s come to us and said “you know I was reading about this or that or whatever”; and maybe we haven’t even opened our eyes to something that they brought to us. And then we started utilizing it for other clients because it looks like they were right. You know, I’d like to think that we have a lock on all the knowledge but it’s working with people on a regular basis that keeps us on our toes and keeps us at the top of our game.
Eric: So if I’m looking for best in class annuity, where do I go?
Dick: You go first of all to our website…
Eric: Which you are here for a long time…
Dick: And you begin your research; and then you work with an expert advisor.
Eric: Yes and that’s the key; it’s getting the facts from somebody that works in this area all the time.
Dick: That’s right!