What a lifetime income annuity can do
- Lifetime annuities can hedge against market swings.
- They can provide guaranteed income for life.
- Also, lifetime annuities can help diversify your income sources.
The face of retirement in America has changed radically in recent decades. People are living longer. Pensions are increasingly rare. Add in market volatility, as well as questions surrounding the long-term financial health of Social Security, and it's no wonder many people feel anxious about funding their retirement.
If you were a newly hired employee at a Fortune 500 company in 1998, you had a 59% chance of having access to a pension plan. But, by 2017, only 16% of employees did. Over that same 19-year stretch, 42% of Fortune 500 employers froze their primary pension plan and 24% closed pension plans to new hires.1 Today, the responsibility of financing your retirement is likely to fall squarely on your shoulders.
But there is a way to create a plan that can give you a regular "retirement paycheck"—through a lifetime income annuity. Resembling a traditional pension plan,2 this investment vehicle can provide a guaranteed3 stream of income that lasts a lifetime and is not vulnerable to the inevitable ups and downs of the market.4
An added benefit is that by locking in some guaranteed income, you will have more freedom to invest the remainder of your retirement assets for growth potential as part of a diversified income plan. Investors might want to consider an income annuity to cover the portion of their essential expenses not covered by other guaranteed income sources like Social Security or a pension.
"What people may not realize is, once you have your essential expenses covered by guaranteed lifetime income, you gain peace of mind and the freedom to pursue the things you love in life," observes Tom Ewanich, vice president and actuary at Fidelity Investments Life Insurance Company. "Additionally, you may invest your remaining assets for growth, rather than worrying about how to preserve and stretch your portfolio for the rest of your life."
A lifetime income annuity represents a contract with an insurance company that allows you to convert a portion of your retirement savings (an amount you choose) into a predictable lifetime income stream. In return for a lump-sum investment, the insurance company guarantees to pay you (or you and your spouse) a set amount of income for life. You also have the option of starting your income either immediately or at a date you select in the future.
Because an annuity's guarantees are only as strong as the insurance company providing them, you should consider the strength of the company you select and its ability to meet its future income obligations.
Having the backing of an insurance company can help mitigate 3 key retirement risks that, generally, can be very challenging to manage by yourself:
- Market risk – Regardless of whether the market goes up or down, the insurance company is obligated to provide you with income payments every year.
- Longevity risk – Rather than trying to figure out how much of your savings you can spend each year before running out of money, the insurance company assumes the responsibility for paying you as long as you live.
- Inflation risk – By including an annual increase option, where available, you can reduce the risk that inflation will diminish your purchasing power over time.
But not all lifetime income annuities are alike—some might provide higher levels of income with little or no flexibility in accessing assets, while others may provide lower levels of income with greater flexibility.
So you'll want to take the time to understand the differences among them and figure out which features might best meet your particular needs. Let's take a closer look at 2 categories of lifetime income annuities, namely, a fixed lifetime income annuity and a fixed annuity with guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefits.
What is a fixed lifetime income annuity?
As part of a diversified income plan, a fixed lifetime income annuity can provide you with guaranteed income for the rest of your life with payments starting immediately or at a future date that you select when you purchase the annuity.
These annuities offer:
- Lifetime income – Avoid outliving your assets by ensuring you will receive a guaranteed stream of income beginning on a date you choose, up to 40 years from your time of purchase. You will also have the security of steady payments regardless of market fluctuations and downturns.
- Personalization – You may choose to receive guaranteed income for your lifetime (or for the lives of you and another person for joint accounts). In addition, you have the choice to purchase optional features to include protection for your beneficiaries or add an annual payment increase feature to help your payment keep pace with inflation.
The trade-off with an income annuity is that you typically must give up control of the portion of the savings you use to purchase one. In exchange, you don't have to manage your account to generate income, and you can secure a predictable income that lasts the rest of your life. However, be sure to ask your financial advisor about withdrawal features that are available on some income annuities, which may alleviate liquidity concerns. What's more, fixed lifetime income annuities are often able to provide higher income payments than other products, such as bonds, CDs, or money market funds, due to the "longevity bonus" they can provide (see the chart below). While the payments from traditional income solutions are limited to return of principal and interest from an investment, fixed lifetime income annuities also make available the ability to share in the longevity benefits of a "mortality pool." Effectively, assets from annuitants with a shorter life span remain in the mortality pool to support the payouts collected by those with a longer life span. Put simply, the longer you live, the more money you will receive.
What are the payment options and features?
Fixed lifetime income annuities offer various options that pay different amounts of income, based on the types of guarantees they provide. The 3 most common payment options are:
- Life with a cash refund – With this option, the priority is ensuring that you never get back less in payments than your original investment. As with many income annuities, you get a lifetime income payment (but typically lower than a life-only option). If you pass away before receiving payments that total your original investment, the remaining value will be paid to your beneficiaries. This means, for example, that if you purchase an annuity for $100,000 and are paid only $10,000 of income during your lifetime, the remaining $90,000 is paid to your heirs.
- Life with a guarantee period – You'll receive income payments for your lifetime. However, if you pass away before the guarantee period ends, any remaining income payments will continue to your beneficiaries until the end of the guarantee period. Here, you get a somewhat lower payment than life only, because the insurance company is guaranteeing to make payments for a minimum number of years.
- Life only – You'll receive income payments over your lifetime. The life-only option offers the highest possible income payment because it's only for as long as you live; no money goes to your heirs. This option typically works well for those in good health and who anticipate a long life.
In addition to different payment options, annuities can include different features. One example is an annual increase option. This feature is based on a fixed percentage and provides for annual increases in the payment amount beginning on the anniversary following your initial payment. Note that the initial payment amount for an annuity with this option may be lower than an identical annuity without the option.
Let's take a look at how these payment options might differ, using Fidelity's Guaranteed Income Estimator tool. Shown below are the results for a hypothetical 65-year-old man who invests $100,000 in a lifetime income annuity starting today. We assume that he was born on November 1, 1954, and started receiving income on January 9, 2020.
What's right for you? Choosing a payment option means focusing on the specific features of a fixed lifetime income annuity and your personal goals. "Consider what's most important to you regarding your retirement plans. Do you need the most guaranteed income available, or are you willing to accept a slightly lower payment to help provide additional protection for your beneficiaries?" says Ewanich.
What is a fixed annuity with a guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit?
As part of a diversified income plan, a fixed deferred annuity with a guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit (GLWB) can provide guaranteed income for the rest of your life, starting on a date you select when you’re ready to start receiving income.
These annuities offer:
- Lifetime income – Avoid outliving your assets by guaranteeing a lifetime withdrawal benefit amount, beginning on a date you select.
- Flexibility – You choose when you would like to start receiving income, but if your situation changes and you need some or all of your money sooner, you have access to any accumulation value in your contract.5
From the time of purchase, you will know how much income you are guaranteed (or you and your spouse for joint contracts) at any age you decide to start lifetime withdrawals. Most importantly, you will have the security of a guaranteed cash flow, regardless of market fluctuations and downturns. Finally, in the event of your death, your beneficiaries will receive any remaining balance in your policy.
How do lifetime income annuities fit into a retirement portfolio?
A lifetime income annuity can help diversify your retirement income portfolio so a portion of your income is shielded from market volatility. Generally, Fidelity believes that assets allocated to annuities should represent not more than 50% of your liquid net assets. Why? Well, even though these products provide guaranteed income for life, they may also require that you give up some liquidity and access to that part of your portfolio.
Ultimately, your overall portfolio may benefit from a lifetime income annuity to help meet essential expenses throughout your retirement.
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