How Does an Annuity Work, and is it Right for You?

Annuity Work
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If you have ever considered setting up a retirement account, then you have probably come across the term “annuity.” If you are over the age of 50, there is a good chance that a financial advisor or other commissioned sales rep has tried to sell you whole life insurance or an annuity. Do you really know how an annuity works or whether it is a safe bet for your retirement?

At Five Points Law Group, our estate planning attorneys not only help prepare wills and powers of attorney, but we can also advise you on how these plans may work in tandem with your financial plan. As attorneys, we are not on a commission. When you hire us, you are paying us to act as fiduciaries, meaning we are required to put your interests first and advise you on what is best for you, not what will be best for our bottom line.

Annuities are a Trade

Ultimately, an annuity is nothing more than a complicated trade agreement. You pay an investment company, and in return they agree to give you regular monthly payments that you can count on regardless of how the money performs in their investments. It removes the risk (to an extent) and gives the retiree a level of certainty. While this may sound like a good plan, when you do the math, many people decide that annuities are not really a good financial choice.

Drawbacks of Annuities 

In theory, an annuity sounds safe. However, there are four big drawbacks you need to consider before taking all of your retirement funds and moving them to one of these accounts.

  • Insolvent Insurance Carrier: If the annuity company (insurance carrier) goes broke and dissolves, you will lose your principal. This is a big risk with some companies, so you need to make sure you are using a super credible and highly rated company. Of course, with those higher ratings come higher costs and fees.
  • High Fees: Annuity companies often charge annual or even monthly fees to receive your payout. Therefore, you are taking your own money, giving it to someone else, then paying them to give it back to you in monthly payments. You can easily do this with a stable bond or mutual fund account. You can place it in a decent, well-performing fund and set it up to distribute dividends or just take regular distributions from your principal over time until the funds are depleted.
  • Bad Investment: To have an annuity, you must give up your right to the principal. So, you actually give up control over your retirement funds. You are taking a gamble that you may live longer than your money, while the annuity company is counting on the money being worth more and lasting longer once pooled in investments.
  • Ineligibility for Government Benefits: Annuities are a countable resource when determining eligibility for SSI, VA Benefits and Medicaid for long-term care.  Because the payments are often set up many years before an individual needs the assistance of government benefits, little thought is paid to how they can impact long-term care.  Contacting an Elder Law or Estate Planning Specialist is the prudent course when considering these products.

What Happens to Your Principal When You Die? 

You generally do not get to leave your annuity to others, although some allow a spouse to continue receiving money. Therefore, most estate planning professionals who are really interested in your family’s long-term wealth will advise you to invest well and draw dividends or principal. That way your money continues to earn interest. Plus, if you die sooner than anticipated, that principal remains in your control for your children, spouse, or other loved ones. Call Five Points Law Group to get skilled advice with your estate plan.

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