More annuity choices
- Immediate (or income) annuity
- Deferred annuity
- Lifetime income annuity
- Inflation-adjusted annuity
1. Immediate (or income) annuity. Available as fixed, variable or a combination of both, the immediate annuity is designed to produce a stream of income soon after its purchase. This option would generally appeal to someone age 60 or older. Deferred annuities can be annuitized to become immediate annuities. Warschauer believes fixed immediate annuities are what near-retirees and retirees should consider first.
2. Deferred annuity. You give the company a large sum upfront or make monthly payments until you reach retirement age. The money grows tax-free until you retire. This works best for someone who has a big chunk of change to put down and at least 20 years for the money to grow tax-free before setting up a schedule of lifetime payments that would start after retirement.
3. Lifetime income annuity. This product provides income for the remaining life of a person (or people, if a two-life annuity is purchased), according to the Insurance Information Institute. The amount paid depends on age, the amount paid into the annuity, and (if it's a fixed annuity) an interest rate set by the company. David F. Babbel, professor of insurance and finance at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, says lifetime income annuities should play a substantial role -- 40 percent to 80 percent of retirement assets -- in the retirement arrangements of most people.
4. Inflation-adjusted annuity. This feature is one that is added to lifetime income annuities that protects one's purchasing power, regardless of whether inflation or deflation occurs, Babbel says, adding that only a handful of insurers offer this feature. He also suggests seeking an annuity with a preset annual rate of increase, such as 1 percent to 6 percent per year. As an alternative to the inflation-adjusted annuity, he suggests having a fixed immediate annuity with a deferred, flexible premium annuity as a supplement. The flexible premium annuity can be activated as needed, "and if inflation really takes off, you can use the flexible premium feature to increase the size of your annuity," he says.
First seek stability
A final word of wisdom that's especially important in today's market: Be careful whom you do business with. "An insurance company can go out of business," points out Warschauer. "There is no guarantee that if a company goes out of business, they won't take the variable annuity or fixed annuity holders with them."
That's why it's worth taking the time to do some research to find out how solid a company you're thinking of buying from. Check out: A.M. Best, Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's, TheStreet.com Ratings (formerly Weiss Ratings)
According to Warschauer, Weiss has had a reputation for doing the best job in predicting failure in insurance companies, although users have to pay to access information. With national firms, he adds, a company being licensed in the State of New York is a good sign of stability, since their insurance commissioner's department is "probably the best known with being careful with regulations."
Regarding worries over financial stability, Warschauer points out that ordinarily the industry purchases each other's customers when a company goes under. "They will buy that package of annuities and take them over. But there have been cases where the annuities have simply failed."
Conclusion: Annuities can be a rescue vehicle for many retirees -- just proceed with caution.
Melissa Ezarik is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.