Today, people are living longer than ever before. While the idea of living a longer (and hopefully healthier) life is appealing to most of us, the tradeoff for many people is the fear of outliving their retirement savings.
On top of that, the immense costs of healthcare today––along with constantly rising inflation––continue to compound an already stressful situation for many. However, there is an option available to retirees that can help ease the stress of outliving their savings while providing them with an income stream almost immediately upon funding it. That financial vehicle is an immediate annuity.
While many annuities are created to build up the account value for retirement, an immediate annuity is actually designed to provide income immediately to its holder.
**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.
Immediate annuities are insurance products that pay their owners a regular income––monthly, quarterly, or over another desired time frame––for as long as the annuity holder lives.
These products are essentially a contract between the annuity owner and an insurance company. They are typically purchased with a large cash lump sum by retirees in order to pay living expenses in a reliable pension style INCOME over a long period of time. In exchange for this lump sum deposit, the insurance company will provide them with a regular income for a specified time OR long as they live, regardless of how long that may be.
Plus, if it is a lifetime annuity, this benefit will continue for as long as the single or joint annuitant is living. Therefore, an immediate annuity actually pays for living a long life instead of the emphasis being on heirs receiving a large payout when the immediate annuity owner dies. It is possible for the immediate annuity owner’s heirs to receive some of the deceased owners intended income if he or she should die prematurely.
Immediate Annuity Features
Throughout the years, there have been some modifications to the original immediate annuity design. Many of these annuity features, which may or may not be available on all immediate annuities, or offered by all insurance companies, are discussed below:
Inflation protection: With this option, the immediate annuity income payments offer some form of a hedge against inflation. Here, the annuity owner may choose to have his or her income payments increase by a certain percentage each year, typically around 3 percent. Another choice may be to have the annuity income payments actually tied to an inflation rate by the use of a consumer price index. When this option is chosen the initial payout of the annuity starts lower.
Refund, liquidity, and withdrawal options: The traditional refund feature on immediate annuities has typically been either a cash refund or an installment refund that ensures after the annuity holder’s death that the beneficiary will receive an amount of money that represents the difference between the initial deposit amount and the amount of the income payments that the annuitant received during his or her life. This, however, reduces the amount of the systematic payout when comparing to life only with no beneficiary benefit.
There are several different ways to structure an immediate annuity with regard to the income payment options. These options include:
Life only: A life-only immediate annuity can also be referred to as a straight life annuity. This means that the annuitant will receive annuity income payments for the rest of his or her life, regardless of how long that duration may be. The payments will cease and all of the unused initial premium will be to the insurance company’s benefit or detriment based upon the annuitant’s actual death and life expectancy underwriting calculations.
Certain period: This structure is not considered to be a life annuity. Rather, the annuity payments will only go on for a fixed period of time, such as for ten years. Even if the annuitant is still living at the end of the stated time period, the annuity payments will cease at that time. However, should the annuitant pass away within that time period, the beneficiary will continue to receive the payments until the period of time has expired.
Life with period certain (or certain and life): This type of immediate annuity payment structure is a combination of both the life and the certain period structures, meaning the annuity will pay income benefits to the annuitant for as long as he or she lives. However, if the annuitant passes away during a specified period of time, say ten years, then the beneficiary will continue to receive income payments from the annuity until the end of that ten-year time period.
Life with cash refund: This can be considered a money-back **guarantee annuity. The income benefit payout is for life. However, if the annuitant passes away before the payments that total at least the amount of premium paid, then a lump sum payment is made to the annuitant’s beneficiary.
Life with installment refund: This, too, can be considered a money-back **guarantee annuity. This immediate annuity payout option is similar to the life with cash refund option, except the annuitant’s beneficiary will continue to receive the monthly annuity income instead of a lump sum until the full amount of the premium has been paid out.
Joint and survivor: This annuity income payout option will **guarantee that the income payments will continue for the lives of both annuitants. Along with this, period certain options can also be added. This particular payout option is typically used with married couples in order to provide income as long as either one of them is still alive. In some instances, the income benefit may drop when the first spouse passes away.
COLA SPIA: This annuity income payout structure has payments that increase or decrease by a floating percentage which fluctuates when tied to a consumer price index, each year. In this case, however, the initial income benefit will likely be lower than those that are non-COLA (cost of living adjustment) annuities.
Annuity Guys® Video Transcript:
Dick: Today, we want to talk about immediate annuities and do a little comparison with immediate annuities and why you might consider an immediate annuity.
Eric: One of the things we often hear, in today’s world, where you have this hybrid annuity, which gives you lifetime income as well as some other bonuses/extras, why would you ever want to actually look at using an immediate annuity, where you’re going to give up your assets?
Dick: Right. That is the difference, Eric. When we think about the hybrid annuity, it’s kind of your cake and eat it too annuity, where you can get your lifetime income, but you don’t have to give up your asset. Yet, there is a place for an immediate annuity.
In fact, let’s do a little history lesson. How about some trivia here? When we think about an immediate annuity, it literally goes back to the early Roman Empire. They called it the “annua,” and that’s where the word annuity comes from. So it is a very early form of an annuity, and it has really gone through the test of time, spanned the centuries.
Eric: So next time you have your toga on, you’ll know to get your annua language out. Exactly. It’s an old standard. It was the first kind of annuity out there, the standard lifetime annuity. You gave up a lump sum, and you got a lifetime income stream.
Dick: It is probably the truest pension-style income. In fact, immediate annuities, a lot of companies will offer a choice of a lump some or an immediate annuity.
Eric: I talked about immediate annuities with a lot of clients, when they were saying, “Hey, I’ve got a 401(k). I want a lifetime income. What can I do to get my own personal pension?” That’s kind of how we think of it. The thing is you’re usually giving up that 401(k) in exchange for that lifetime income stream. Now, the big thing here is you realize that none of those dollars are going on to heirs.
Dick: Yes. Well, in a true pension, there’s no money in a pension, as a rule. When you have a pension, when you pass, the money ends, or if you’ve chosen a survivorship option, you’ve probably taken a little bit lower payment on your pension, and then some of those payments will go on to perhaps a spouse.
Eric: Exactly. When I grew up, my parents were educators. So they had a traditional kind of benefit program, where they have a retirement that’s there as long as they live. The bad thing is, once they’re gone, nothing goes on to me. Being a little self-serving here now. The 401(k) plan . . .
Dick: Why didn’t they get a hybrid annuity?
Eric: Exactly. Why can’t they get a hybrid annuity? So when they’re looking at it, that’s the old style. The hybrid, on the other hand, allows you to pass some of those dollars on to heirs typically.
Dick: Right. So, really, where the immediate annuity fits, let’s just give some examples. Someone who really wants to start income right now.
Eric: With an traditional immediate annuity, typically you’re going to get a higher payout than you would with a hybrid. You’re going to start with a little bit higher. . .
Dick: Typically. But we have seen a few instances where . . . you’ve got to run some illustrations to know.
Eric: Exactly. So that’s one of the things that when people are going that direction, that’s usually the reason.
Dick: General assumption is you’re going to get more income.
Eric: A little bit more. A higher percentage to start with.
Dick: Right. Then the other key factor would be that, perhaps, if you’re going to use an immediate, you really aren’t as concerned about giving money over to heirs.
Eric: Right. Are there ways to get money on to either survivors or heirs? That’s one of the things we . . .
Dick: With an immediate?
Eric: An immediate annuity. You can structure it so that it’s a joint lifetime payout. So if you and a spouse purchase an immediate annuity, you can set it up so that it is the lifetime of both of you or either of you. Whoever lives the longest, those payments will continue. There are little tweaks that you can even do there, where you can set it up so that once one passes, it sometimes reduces by a percentage.
Dick: A percentage, so they only get three-quarters or one half of the annuity.
Eric: Right. The other way that you can somewhat pass on dollars to heirs is there are a couple of things. You can do a period certain, where it’s lifetime with a certain number of years **guaranteed. A lot of times you’ll see somebody do a lifetime annuity with 20 years **guaranteed. So that 20 years of payments is **guaranteed.
Dick: So if I pass in 5 years, somebody is going to get another 15 years of payments. But what does that do to my income?
Eric: It’s going to reduce your payments. You have to realize going in, if your goal is the highest payout possible, you don’t want to add any of these other pieces. But if you’re wanting to try to pass on money to somebody, that’s a way of **guaranteeing basically that some of that comes back. One of the things I always look at is either the installment refund or the cash refund, which says once you purchase the immediate annuity, if you haven’t gotten back at least what you paid in principal wise, that amount will be refunded either to your heirs or to your estate.
Dick: Well, isn’t that the installment refund?
Eric: The installment refund keeps the payments coming back to your return of principal.
Dick: Okay. So you’re talking about the full lump sum.
Eric: Yes, just a refund of whatever you’ve put in, so it’s either a lump sum or installment refund.
Dick: One of the biggest vulnerabilities that Eric and I look at with our clients, and what we think you should be concerned about, is inflation. That is probably one of the biggest vulnerabilities we face. We have had historic inflation the last 4 decades of over 4%. We believe that the stage is really set for some higher inflation over the next two or three decades, which is going to cover most retirees. So if we would happen to go through a stretch of 4% or 5% – I’m not talking about runaway hyper third world country inflation – but if we’re talking 4%, 4.5%, 5%, 6% inflation, that makes that immediate annuity, if you have no inflation cost of living adjustment, a COLA on it, it really puts you at a disadvantage.
Eric: Yes, especially if you’ve got longevity in what you’re looking at. You realize you’re taking a level payment and you’re stretching it over your lifetime. So your purchasing power is going to diminish with inflation.
Dick: Right. So one of the things that we do suggest, very strongly, is that whatever type of annuity, whether it’s an immediate annuity, a hybrid annuity, a deferred annuity where you’re deferring it for a long time, that you’re really taking inflation into account. There are different ways to structure for inflation, but if you’re not taking it into account, you’re really setting yourself up for a bad situation.
Eric: Right. That’s another aspect that you can add to an immediate annuity. Some of them you can add a cost of living adjustment. Others have a fixed percentage.
Dick: Tied to a consumer price index or a fixed percentage.
Eric: So those are things you can add, but you realize you’re going to start lower.
Dick: Your payments are going to start lower. Right.
Eric: So it’s all about the tradeoffs.
Dick: I love the idea of a real cost of living adjustment. So if things get carried away and we start seeing 5% or 6% inflation, we’ve covered a major vulnerability in a retirement plan.
Eric: Yes. That’s what we’re looking at here. When we’re looking at immediate annuities, we’re looking at you creating your own personal pension.
Dick: Yes, that’s right.
Eric: If you’re into this marketplace, where you’re going to create a personal pension, and you have that magic number you know that you need to hit and you can anticipate the growth, that’s where this product really comes in.
Dick: So if we’re to kind of wind up this discussion on immediate annuities, being a true pension-style income, where would we summarize that this is going to fit? What type of person should buy an immediate annuity, should really consider it for their retirement portfolio?
Eric: I always say it’s someone with no heirs, that doesn’t have to worry about passing on dollars to somebody in the future. They’re not worried about that. They want the highest payout now, and that’s really the person that I start with.
Dick: Right. I think that, in winding this up, we just want to say, do a fair comparison. You may be the ideal person for an immediate annuity, but get with a professional advisor, run some illustrations, compare it. We have actually seen situations where a hybrid annuity can right off the bat outperform an immediate annuity. It’s not often, but it does happen.
Eric: Yes. Very good.
Dick: Thank you.