As advisors who specialize in retirement planning one of the first questions we discuss with clients surrounds the subject of liquidity. We need to insure that our clients are equipped for whatever financial challenges life may present them with and sometimes that means needing access to some cash quickly.
So are annuities liquid financial vehicles? Can annuities be converted to cash? Maybe — depending on the type of annuity and the timing, some annuities can be converted to cash quickly. There is really a scale of liquidity from liquid to illiquid across various annuity types with immediate annuities being illiquid while variable, fixed and hybrid annuities offer many opportunities to access cash with no penalties.
**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.
In a March 2012 article in Insurance News, “Debunking Annuity Objections” Sheryl Moore an objective industry expert addresses the topic of annuity liquidity. Sheryl does an excellent job articulating just how insurance companies keep annuities secure by purchasing high quality bonds whose maturities coincide with the surrender period for the purchased annuity. In addition insurance companies must also have reserves set aside that are determined by the state insurance commissions as adequate. Consequently, if an annuity is redeemed early the insurance company may be required to redeem the underlying bonds prior to maturity resulting in a financial loss to the insurance company. So as a safeguard to their financial stability the insurance companies include surrender charges to maintain their continued viability and safety for all clients involved. Since annuities have to be reliable as long term financial vehicles for retirement, surrenders cause people to think twice before bailing out unless it is absolutely necessary, thus protecting others that remain.
It should be pointed out that cashing out an annuity is not the only way to obtain liquidity. Virtually all non – immediate annuities provide for a portion of the annuity that can be withdrawn each year without penalty – and for most annuities this amount is 10 percent of the value of the annuity annually. In addition, it is typical for annuities to provide for access to funds without penalty should the annuitant be confined to a nursing home, disability or being diagnosed as being terminally ill.
In addition, all annuities offer the option of annuitization **guaranteeing a lifetime income and most annuities pay the account value to the beneficiaries upon the death of the annuitant.
If you use an annuity or series of annuities in your retirement planning understanding how you can get access the account value should be part of the conversation with your advisor. Just know that a full pre-mature surrender is not the best or a preferred option for most annuity owners. A very small percentage of annuities are surrendered in full prior to maturity.
Annuity Guys® Video Transcript:
Eric: today’s topic is annuities, are they liquid or not?
Dick: Yeah, can we put our money into these? Are we going to lose our money or how long is it going to be gone for? How does this work, Eric?
Eric: How big is the vault that you have to put that in? Can you get into the vault? When we start talking about liquidity, and it’s one of the first questions we are typically asked or actually, we address with clients, because annuities typically are long-term.
Dick: They are. They’re long-term retirement vehicles and you shouldn’t look at them as your liquid money, even though there may be liquidity there.
Eric: Right, each type of annuity has kind of a different level of liquidity.
Dick: So let’s talk about first of all, the annuity that has no liquidity.
Eric: I was going to say medium, minimal, yeah, I always give you the little caveat there.
Dick: Minimal, there’s some liquidity there.
Eric: With an immediate annuity, you’re going to take your liquid asset really, and you’re going to give it to the insurance company in exchange for an income stream. So the problem is that lump sum is gone now, if you had to go out and salvage it, if you really think about it.
Dick: Get something out of your annuity.
Eric: You could sell it on the secondary market. You’re going to get pennies on the dollar.
Dick: It wouldn’t be a good idea, unless you really have to.
Eric: That would be a last ditch.
Eric: Uncle Joey’s in prison, I don’t know.
Dick: Let’s not go there.
Eric: I was going to say, so just don’t even consider it as part of being sound financial planning.
Dick: Make a good plan and then you won’t need to cash that immediate annuity in.
Eric: That’s right.
Dick: Let’s talk about some annuities that are more liquid or considerably more liquid. Go ahead.
Eric: The next level is really that fixed, indexed hybrid, which is all built on that kind of fixed annuity chassis.
Dick: Fixed annuity chassis, right.
Eric: The best part about most of those and this is a typical aspect; you’re going to get a 10% after that first year. Your first year is usually for some, it’s 5.0%, for some it’s no withdrawal that first year, but typically, after that point in time you’re able to withdraw 10%.
Dick: At least by the second year, the 13th month you can take 10% out, and the beauty of that is that there’s no penalty and there’s no surrender.
Eric: So it’s actually some liquidity of what you’ve deposited. Some do it based on the account value. Some do it based off of the original deposit.
Dick: Right. So when we’re looking at this type of liquidity, again 10% is a long ways from 90% or 100% of what you actually put into the annuity, yet the idea of liquidity in an annuity is that, when you structure your financial plan properly, you’re not looking for liquidity with an annuity. That’s not the purpose of that money.
Eric: Right. Annuities are geared towards income, you know, or savings?
Dick: Or safety and giving money back to heirs.
Eric: You should know there are ways to get access to some of that cash, if you need it. But just knowing how you’re structuring your whole plan allows you to safeguard those places.
Dick: You know we talk about 10% but then there are some other provisions in an annuity, because folks, these annuities really are true retirement vehicles, and so the annuity companies look at these and say well, what would be a real emergency, a real liquid need perhaps in retirement, and one would be terminal illness. Another would be a long term care need and those all have some provisions for liquidity.
Eric: I was going to say, most annuities have those pieces built in.
Dick: You get all your money back with no penalty or surrender.
Eric: Obviously, the one that we never like to even mention necessarily, because it’s really not liquidity for you, but it’s liquidity for your heirs if you would pass, all that account value would move on to your heirs.
Dick: That’s important to know, because I have frequently sat down with someone who was just investigating annuities initially, and did not understand that those penalties and surrenders are not passed on to heirs. They get the full account value including bonuses, and there are no penalties. No surrenders.
Eric: It is a strength in the annuity system, in the sense of being able to purchase something. You may have gotten a bonus or something right up front. Those things typically, if you would pass even the second day you’ve owned it, that full account value moves on to heirs.
Dick: Now, Eric a lot of people would see this as being very counterintuitive, because I am going to make a statement here, and that statement is simply that surrenders can actually be good, and there’s a reason why surrender charges. Now, Eric says, no, never. Eric, it depends on which side of the fence you’re on.
Eric: That’s right.
Dick: If you’re the person wanting to get some money out, then you think surrenders are bad. On the other hand, if you’re the person that’s got your money long-term in an annuity, and it’s supposed to accomplish your retirement, you don’t want other people pulling their money out prematurely.
Eric: That’s correct. When you understand how insurance companies reserve for annuities and how they’re constructed, you want your company that you’re doing business with to be financially stable.
Dick: Very secure. Remain viable.
Eric: And how these annuities are constructed is once you purchase an annuity, that insurance company is going to take those dollars, and typically run down to the investment bond market.
Eric: Buy high-quality bonds.
Eric: And that’s what they use to reserve your annuity. Now why is that important? If the insurance company has to go sell some of those underlying bonds early, because you’ve surrendered prior to your maturity time, they’re going to have to sell those bonds on the open market.
Dick: Perhaps take a hit and this is what some of that surrender charge offsets, but it also makes you take pause and think twice before you go cash in an annuity.
Eric: That’s where you look at it as being the surrender fees are actually part of the overall construct of the insurance companies that help them protect the system. It helps protect the entire, basically industry and what you’re protecting the people…
Dick: Ultimately, it protects the people that are insured. They’re relying on their annuity for their retirement.
Eric: So that’s where he is saying it’s a good thing, if you’re trying to get to the liquidity aspect.
Dick: Now another thing that I find very interesting that gets overlooked a lot of times is folks will think, well once that surrender period ends, which is in 10-years and that must be the end of my annuity, but it’s not. No, that’s where you now have full liquidity. You have full control over your money, but they still have contractual obligations to you.
Eric: That’s right.
Dick: When you set up the annuity originally.
Eric: That’s the key thing. The word annuity, typically in my mind, means lifetime. Once you start it, you’re into a lifetime contract. You can decide at some point…
Dick: To end it early, to walk away.
Eric: But you’ve, basically you’ve got a commitment.
Dick: You’ve got them on the hook. That’s what your contractual **guarantees do.
Eric: That’s right. The other thing we didn’t talk about as far as, another way of getting liquidity with an annuity is obviously, annuitization, any annuity can be annuitized. What does that mean? Basically, it means you’re turning it to into a lifetime income stream.
Dick: So you’re really setting a fixed annuity into what would normally be called an immediate annuity, if you purchased it right off the bat, and wanted an income stream. What we found to be very popular lately has been the hybrid annuity. The idea of the hybrid annuity is it’s kind of like you’re having your cake and eating it too. Where you can have your lifetime income, but in addition to that you’ve still have got your asset.
Eric: Dick likes to talk about this, so I’m going to put him on the hook. We talk about majority control, a lot of the times with hybrid annuities, especially. You want to kind of explain a little bit about what—when you talk about majority control.
Dick: When you first start out with an annuity obviously there are surrender charges and the surrender charges are higher in the earlier years. But even in the worst case scenario as a rule, when you subtract the bonus out, because let’s face it, if a company gives you a bonus for putting your money with them, if you take your money out early they want their bonus back. They want their money back.
So when we say majority control, that surrender charge kind of in its worst case is about 10%. So that means you literally control 90% of your principal and then you have a decreasing surrender charge over the years. So you continue to gain a higher and higher majority, until you have 100% majority control, and yet you still have contractual **guarantees that that company has to honor. So this is what we say majority control, which is the opposite with the immediate annuity, because with the immediate annuity, you’ve given up your lump sum and you have no more control over your asset. Did I do a good job?
Eric: That was it. Thank you. I think that helps people a lot of times, because when you’re thinking about, especially with liquidity if you’re looking at a hybrid annuity, really you have to understand, for the most part unless it’s a really weird contract, you’ve got at least 90% control of all the dollars from day one.
Eric: And so it’s a good way of thinking about it, because I’ve seen the market take a 10% dive and you lose 10% over a period of time.
Dick: Right, sure. Absolutely, and we know that that’s the beauty of an annuity is it gives you that security and safety, and it takes the volatility away of the market, and so for at least a portion of the portfolio we recommend a lot of times that that’s the foundational portion of the portfolio.
Eric: So I guess to try to sum up this topic, we would say just know that when you’re going into the annuity market that one, you’re going to have majority control in situations, and also know there is more than one way to get access to your dollars.
Dick: Yes, there are and as we kind of hinted, it’s important to not think in terms of well, taking all of my money out of the annuity at one time, but taking a 10% or what you really need, and that when you structure that annuity originally that you structure it as a long-term portion of your portfolio. Okay, folks, hopefully we’ve covered liquidity and annuities and I’m sure there is more that we could say, Eric.
Eric: Liquid or not?
Dick: Have we said enough today? We never know how to wind these up.
Eric: Ending is always the hardest part.
Dick: Thank you for watching.
Eric: Have a great day.