My accountant husband has been considering buying an annuity to guarantee that whatever happens, we'll always have a stable flow of income to cover things such as the real estate tax bill on the house we're building.
At this point, we don't think paying these taxes is a problem, but most of our retirement income will come from returns on savings, and in this crazy economy, who knows what will happen.
Annuities are a tough sell for the insurance industry. No matter what the industry does, it's hard to persuade people doing retirement planning to seriously consider them. Lots of people fear that they'll tie up their money in an annuity, then die before they've gotten back more than they put in.
Insurance trade association and think tank Limra reported this quarter that sales of annuities had fallen 14 percent compared to the same quarter last year. The reason for some of the decline is lousy rates of return and a crummy economy. Even so, with 10,000 baby boomers hitting 65 every day, you'd think the time is now for marketing annuities.
Joseph Montminy, Limra's assistant vice president for annuity research, says the association has found once people buy a traditional fixed annuity, 86 percent say they are glad they did. Plain-vanilla fixed annuities are easy to understand. You decide how much money you want to spend. The insurer calculates the return, subtracts about 2 percent in fees, and invests the rest, guaranteeing what you'll get monthly for the rest of your life and if you choose, your spouse's life.
The industry's fastest growing annuity business is actually in indexed annuities. These have a guaranteed minimum return, so even if there is another financial meltdown like we had in 2008, holders of these annuities will continue to get some payback. The downside is that there's a cap on how much the holder of one of these will make if the returns are very good and the fees are often as much as 2.5 percent, which makes the guaranteed minimum little more than insurance against losing your principal.
Are annuities worth it? It depends on what keeps you up at night. If you have a defined benefit pension and you're confident Social Security will continue to pay an inflation-adjusted return for as long as you live, then buying an annuity probably isn't a good idea. But if you're like many of us, and your retirement income is based on the value of your investments, and you aren't all that confident about the future of Social Security, you might want to consider putting your money into an annuity. Pick your poison.