Fixed Indexed Annuities - Hybrid Annuities

Fixed Indexed Annuities - Hybrid Annuities

Yields are often misrepresented by design

Stewart Ogilby
Sarasota, Florida, 6/15/2014

Excerpted from

Annuity salesmen might not understand this message, especially if they are salivating about getting a 4% - 7% commission on your nest egg. Salesmen who are life-insurance licensed, which is what is needed to sell annuities, aggressively seek to "roll over" the entire accumulated value of retirement plans that have been methodically funded over years during the working lives of their insurance prospects. Typically sales commissions on annuities range between 4% - 7%. Four percent of a $300K nest egg such as a 401K plan amounts to a $12,000 commission! The same percentage of $500K equals a $20,000 commission! You see why salesmen love to pitch annuities?

If a salesman leads you to believe that you ought to use an annuity as the basic savings or investment portion of your retirement portfolio be careful. It may be that he is digging into his bag of retirement financial goodies and bringing out the only thing he has inside it to start with. Even if he is licensed to sell securities (not just variable annuities) along with insurance company products, a huge annuity commission in prospect might be just too tempting.

What is fundamentally important is that any financial product, especially a fixed annuity, be considered in conjunction with a comprehensive financial plan. Such a plan must consider one's needs and goals including the impact of inflation, liquidity considerations, income requirements, and particularly alternative solutions. What financial vehicles, including annuities, are available to provide the best chance of achieving your financial objectives using low risk and low cost methods? Annuities do work well at times and the way to determine if one works appropriately in your situation is to test and forecast results by constructing a financial plan both with and without one or more annuities.

Under what circumstances do fixed annuities fit into a comprehensive retirement plan? They work best when planning for guaranteed income, now or in the future. Here is a somewhat over simplified technique for determining whether or not to consider buying an annuity: First, total up monthly income that is guaranteed from sources such as pensions and Social Security. Add monthly income you can conservatively estimate from low risk, low volatility investments that have strong audited financial data going back prior to 2000. For the sake of this brief discussion, we will call this total "projected income". Next, estimate the income you will need monthly in retirement. If the projected income is greater than your needed monthly income then you probably don't need to buy an annuity, or you might consider a small one to insure a guaranteed income and to sleep better.

In making these calculations remember to consider expected major changes in both guaranteed income and monthly income needs. These should be gone through methodically with the help of your advisor or financial planner. Annuity salesmen generally can't be bothered with all that. If needed monthly income exceeds guaranteed monthly income this "income gap" may be filled by means of an annuity. The amount allocated to the annuity will probably be considerably less than that proposed by an insurance salesman. Just how much money needs to be placed in an annuity for this purpose depends upon your age, or both your ages if married, as well as when the income will be needed, now or in the future.

If a small dollar amount positioned here is a good thing, why isn't more better? Annuities are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, subject to inflation risk whether they contain an "inflation rider" or not. Your retirement portfolio ought to contain investments with adjustable interest rate yields to help offset inflation risk as well as to get you out of harms way during periods of falling markets. Annuities are generally illiquid. They frequently contain substantial penalties for withdrawing cash initially. It is important to have funds readily available in the event of emergency. Do not place money into an annuity unless you will have a substantial amount of liquid assets remaining.

The big pitch used in selling fixed annuities involves stressing two important features of these products, both of which are attractive: safety of principal and the ability to provide an income that cannot be outlived. These advantages must be weighed against illiquidity and inflation risk as well as the less likely default risk. In purchasing any annuity the rating of the issuing company should be viewed as an important consideration.

As with all financial products, advantages must be weighed against disadvantages and appropriate application must be made in terms of individual financial circumstances. More recent economic and societal changes, especially increased volatility of financial markets as well as increased life span, have moved the focus toward annuities by honest and well-meaning persons in the insurance industry who, unfortunately for their clients, often lack alternative solutions. Salesmen earning their living by selling securities and compensated transactionally have traditionally looked askance at annuities except during market troughs when it is harder to sell other financial products. In both cases, the public is disadvantaged.

Recent times dictate an increased desirability for persons, especially those near or in retirement, to go to trained fiduciaries for advice and for the positioning of assets that they must rely upon for the rest of their lives. The goals of the game today are low risk, low volatility, and not going backward, along with a high degree of probability of growth during advancing equities markets. The role of annuities in financial planning, as opposed to that of other financial products, may be more determined by individual factors such as risk tolerance and stress concern than by non-subjective considerations.

An annuity salesman may quote an insurance company's cleverly designed percentage ("roll up") that has been calculated to create a phantom "account" upon which future income payouts are calculated. Such a percentage may differ substantially from an annuity's annual yields before or after exercising an income option. Any life insurance company's actuaries are able to project how much the company can affordably pay out of retained principal based on mortality tables. I see no reason for an insurance company to make an annuity's guaranteed lifetime income payout a function of a phantom "account" that contains a "roll-up percentage" as high as 8% or more, other than for marketing purposes.

Too often this numbers game results in salesmen quoting that "roll-up" percentage as the "asset growth" within an annuity. The sales pitch, passed from an insurance company to a distributing FMO and then pitched to gullible insurance salesmen, frequently results in projecting annuity yields higher than those of other investments. Since it will take quite a few years of income just to return a client's initial deposit(s), most annuity buyers are likely to get a return more in the 1% to 3% range. The best annuities may generate a yield of 3% to 5% to their depositors only after years of retirement income. See Jason Wenk's Independent Annuity Reviews.

Life insurance companies invest conservatively, overwhelmingly in intermediate-term bonds. Obviously, they can't pay out higher percentages than they earn. Unfortunately, this fact gets lost, too often, by salesmen pitching annuities. As shown by Jason Wenk's mathematical annuity analyses, the accumulation growth of these products over time runs between 1% to 3% net of fees, as expected.

Money placed in fixed annuities of top-rated carriers is as safe as anything that can be found and is guaranteed never to go backward. In today's volatile markets they make sense when used as the safest and most secure portion of one's retirement portfolio. How much goes there depends upon individual situations and risk tolerances. Understanding this does not, in any way, eliminate the importance of safety and security when positioning growth assets that are earmarked for one's own future and reducing what we consider to be unacceptable levels of market risk.

There is nothing wrong with earning 1% to 3% on a portion of one's assets that will not go backward, are protected by assets of a huge financially sound insurance company, and are guaranteed some growth. If you are dealing with an agent or advisor who is touting returns from a fixed annuity, fixed index annuity, or through a fixed annuity's income rider, or "hybrid annuity" that are substantially larger than 1% to 3%, I suggest you look further.

A fixed annuity can provide you safety of principal combined with a guaranteed lifetime income, subject to an insurance company's financial ability to meet its contractual obligations. A fixed annuity hedges longevity risk, the risk that you might outlive your money. That is what fixed annuities are uniquely designed to do and they do it well.

Legal disclaimer: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any advice given is not intended to be used, and shall not be used, for the purposes of avoiding penalties under the applicable revenue codes or for the purpose of marketing or recommending to another person and/or entity any transaction or matter contained herein. We may not and cannot give specific federal or state tax, legal or accounting advice. While we discuss “planning” in these areas, individuals are expressly and specifically directed to seek and rely only upon the advice of legal counsel or a certified public accountant in regard to the tax or legal aspects of any transactions or matters.

This webpage is made available for educational and entertainment purposes only. Mr. Ogilby is owner and Manager of WiseBird Financial Group, in Sarasota, Florida. The opinions expressed on this site are those solely of Stewart Ogilby. Nothing on this website should be interpreted to state or imply that past results are an indication of future performance. This webpage is in no way a solicitation or an offer to sell securities or investment advisory services. Mr. Ogilby disclaims responsibility for updating information. In addition, Mr. Ogilby disclaims responsibility for third-party content, including information accessed through hyperlinks.

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Fixed Indexed Annuities - Hybrid Annuities