Retirement Planning - Redefined

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Ep 27: Understanding Annuities - The Basics

October 29, 2020

There are a lot of strong opinions on annuities. Some people heavily advocate for them, while others claim they are a bad investment. Today John and Nick will break down the basics for us by discussing what an annuity is and some important terms to know.

Helpful Information:

PFG Website: https://www.pfgprivatewealth.com/

Contact: 813-286-7776

Email: info@pfgprivatewealth.com

Disclaimer:

PFG Private Wealth Management, LLC is a registered investment adviser. All statements and opinions expressed are based upon information considered reliable although it should not be relied upon as such. Any statements or opinions are subject to change without notice. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investment involve risk and, unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Information expressed does not take into account your specific situation or objectives and is not intended as recommendations appropriate for any individual. Listeners are encouraged to seek advice from a qualified tax, legal, or investment adviser to determine whether any information presented may be suitable for their specific situation. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

Transcript of Today's Show:

For a full transcript of today's show, visit the blog related to this episode at https://www.pfgprivatewealth.com/podcast/

Speaker 1: Hey everybody. Welcome into the podcast. Thanks for tuning into Retirement Planning Redefined with John and Nick from PFG Private Wealth. We appreciate your time as we're going to get into understanding annuities, we're going to do a series on annuities, several podcasts coming up but we're going to start out with the basics, annuity basics. So, stick around for that, we're going to get into that in just a second. But first, let me say hi to the guys. What's going on, Nick? How are you?

 

Nick: Staying pretty good, just waiting for the weather to cool down a little bit here in Florida. We are ready for, I guess what we would consider our winter or fall one.

 

Speaker 1: Do you get fall? Isn't it just summer, winter?

 

Nick: I feel like when I first moved here, there was some fall back in '03, '04, '05. But the last few years, it feels like it's just kind of jumped from one to the other. But whatever it is, where it's not 90 plus and sticky out, I'm ready for it.

 

Speaker 1: Right. Yeah. John, how you doing my friend?

 

John: I'm good, I'm good. I'm with you. I was thinking we're just chatting about the weather and it's still 87 here and it feels like 92 and I'm ready for a low 80s and no more humidity.

 

Speaker 1: There you go. Yeah, the humidity can be the bear, that's for sure. Well, good. I'm glad you guys are doing well since our last time chatting here on the podcast. So, we've got a lot to cover, we're going to try to keep this into our timeframe. We're trying to keep this into a digestible amount of time for folks here. So, let's jump in and start talking about annuities, understanding them and again, as I mentioned, we'll start with the basics.

 

Speaker 1: It's just really important to understand them because they can offer some things to people, it can be a vehicle that some may find useful. There's risk reduction, retirement income, tax deferral, death benefits, so let's just get into some of this stuff. What is an annuity to kind of start off with guys?

 

John: When you break it down, it's a contract with an insurance company. So, that's kind of the premise of it all and what that contract, typically, you're getting some type of guarantee and we'll dive into that a little later but it could be some type of a principal protection guarantee, income guarantee, death benefit guarantee. So, that's what you're looking for. And it's really important again, kind of going back to understanding it because it is a contract with an insurance company, so you need to understand all the details of it, just because it could come back to bite you. And we've seen that happen quite a few times as we're doing some reviews with clients. They just don't truly understand how it works because these are pretty complex vehicles and there's a lot of moving parts.

 

John: So, it's just important to understand how, going back to the overall plan, how does the tool work with everything else? And then one thing that we, again, being a contract, the guarantees are based on the paying ability of the company that you're with. So, one of the things that we always kind of look at is what's the rating of the company you're going with because if you want to set the contract for some type of guarantee, you want to make sure that they're going to be around to actually give you that guarantee.

 

Speaker 1: Right, yeah. Yeah. So, Bob's insurance is not necessarily the best idea, right?

 

Nick: Yeah. And I will say one other thing that we like to preface this sort of conversation with and part of the reason that it is so confusing for people is that there are many different subsets or different types of annuities. And so, oftentimes people have heard the term annuity but they don't realize all of the different types and that their experience may pertain to one of 10 different types. So, as we get into the differences and kind of the nuances, we'll kind of joke sometimes in our classes that we almost wish that they were called different things. It's like saying, "Hey, should I buy a vehicle? Well, do you want a car? Do you want a truck? What are you trying to do? Is gas mileage important to you? Is off-roading important? What is it?" And that same sort of mentality is important when you are talking about it.

 

Speaker 1: Well, you could think about that analogy Nick with and just leave it at cars because many people would just say, "I need to get a new car." Even when they're looking at like an SUV or something like that, they don't really refer to it that way. So yeah, that's a great way of thinking about that. And we will cover, we we'll get into, like I said, we're starting with the basics today but we'll get into some of the different types, their names, what they are, so on and so forth. So, John gave us kind of what the gist of it is. There's a couple of phases to think about, what are the phases?

 

Nick: As we get into it and when we're talking about deferred annuities, there's essentially what's called an accumulation phase and a withdrawal phase. So for the accumulation phase, what that is referring to is, between the time that you initiate or deposit money into the annuity and between that starting point and then the period in time in which you start withdrawing money, it's called the accumulation phase. And that's important to know because there's different rules, which we'll sort of get into but that accumulation phase is important to understand because by itself, an annuity does provide tax-deferred accumulation or tax-deferred growth during that phase.

 

Nick: So, if somebody says an example of that is the easiest way to compare it is, client has $100,000 in a money market account at the bank and they get to collect, when they get interest on that account, they get a 1099 at the end of the year, they pay taxes on the interest in the year that the interest is incurred. In the annuity, in its own chassis, it's going to provide tax-deferred growth, which means that that growth just compounds without having to pay any taxes on it until the point that you start taking it out. That's a pretty big deal and could be a really useful tool for higher income earners that are looking to put money in places that are more tax beneficial especially if we do enter into a higher tax bracket, phase, which we may in the next four to eight years.

 

Nick: And then for the withdrawal phase, it is that money starts to come out. So, the first thing that people need to understand is that when you take that money out, if it's non-qualified or non-IRA money, there is going to be some form of taxation. It's going to be ordinary income, which means whatever tax bracket they're in, those withdrawals, as long as they're part of the gains that have happened in the contract, those earnings are going to come out first and they're going to be taxed at ordinary income.

 

Nick: So, understanding how that works is kind of an initial importance. There is a term and a methodology of taking out money inside of an annuity via what's called annuitization. Again, this is one of those things where you wish that they would just come up with words that aren't confusing, annuity, annuitization, et cetera. So, annuity is basically like a noun, it's a type of account. Annuitization is an action essentially. Annuitization is when the company liquidates your lump sum of money and starts paying you in it whether it's a monthly or an annual payment. And one of the benefits of annuitization is that they can actually spread out your gains over a longer period of time and it can be a more tax-efficient way and can guarantee you payments over a certain period of time.

 

Nick: And so, in one of the other future series, we're going to get into that process a little bit more. But the easiest way for people to think about it is kind of like a pension payment, a fixed amount of money that's going to be paid out over a certain period of time. And then, there are guaranteed withdrawals and we'll talk about that a little bit where you can kind of structure how you want to take out withdrawals. So, it is confusing, there's a lot of moving parts and it's a good example of why we're going to have in-depth series on this.

 

Speaker 1: Yeah. That's a good example of why to work with an advisor as well to help you go through some of these things. And John, there's definitely caveats that go with it. There's things you'll want to know, some big bullet points if you will. Give us a few of those in the basics of an annuity.

 

John: Yeah. Important again, any contract you go into important to understand what the rules are and these are things you want to consider. So, similar to an IRA where there's that 10% penalty if you withdraw before 15 and a half, annuity has the same scenario. So actually, this just came up with some advisors I was working with and we were doing some planning and the client needed money in a four-year period and really needed to, they wanted to make sure there was some guarantees to it. So, it was discussed of kind of an annuity to provide some type of principal guarantee. But by the time they would need the money, they would have only been 58. So, it was decided, "Hey, this isn't a good vehicle for you because you can't touch it 'til 59 and a half due to do that 10% penalty."

 

John: So again, important when you're going into anything, just understand the rules because had they put that money into it and then in four years when they needed it, they wouldn't be able to access it penalty-free. So, just important to understand that one. Another one that we see a lot of people mistake or not understand how it works is the surrender period. Some of these contracts basically, when you give the money to the insurance company, there's a period of time where you actually can't get access to all your money full and clear. And this is separate from the 59 and a half but the surrender periods can be as short as three years. So, let's say you give your money to XYZ insurance company, they give you these guarantees and they tell you, "Okay, for a three-year period though, you can't get full access to your money. We're basically keeping it."

 

John: So, it can be three years and we've seen as high as 16. And that's one of the things you really want to understand what you're getting into because unfortunately, we've seen some people where they've gotten to the 16-year period, is that they had no idea they we're getting into it and they have limited access to their funds. And we'll go through ... There is a piece of money you can get at but you just want to make sure how long has this contract going to be before you can get out of it. And with that is what we call the surrender charge. So, let's say your surrender period is seven years and in year five, you want to pull out money. Well, there's actually a descending surrender charge. So in year five, if you decide, "Hey, I can't do this anymore. I need to get access to my money," the insurance company might charge 4% of your principal for you to actually get out of the contract.

 

John: So, an example of that would be seven-year contract. First year surrender charge could be 8%, second year would be 7% and so on. So, that's where you really want to understand exactly, "What's my surrender period? And if for whatever reason, I need to pull out of this contract early before the surrender period's up, how much am I going to get charged to do so?" Again, it's all about reading the fine details in the contract.

 

Nick: And within that, many contracts have a 10% free withdrawal amount that will avoid you having to pay a penalty even that surrender charged during that surrender period but that can be confusing as well. And sometimes, that's used to oversell or kind of force people into not necessarily force, but convince people to put more money than they feel comfortable with into something like that. But many of them do allow for a 10% withdrawal each year.

 

John: Yeah. So an example of that, so I'm glad you brought that up, Nick is, let's say you had $100,000 in an annuity and you're in year three. And you don't necessarily need to cancel the whole contract but you do need access to some funds, you could pull out. Typically we see a max, they allow up to 10%. We've seen some as low as 5%. But in a 10% scenario, you could pull out 10 grand in that year free and clear of any charges. So, that's important to understand exactly what's your free withdrawal amount. And then, one thing to understand is once the surrender period is up, so if you're in a seven-year contract, once that seven years is over, you can move your money wherever you want or you can keep it in the current contract. So, once a surrender period's up, it's 100% liquid at that point in time.

 

Nick: And just one other thing on that surrender period, if somebody out there is evaluating them, a good question to ask is whether or not the surrender period is what's called rolling or not on rolling. So, what that means is that if it is a non-rolling surrender period and it's a seven-year contract like John explained or kind of detailed, the seven-year period starts when you first deposit the money and it never extends. So, you can make an additional deposit down the road, say in year five and that new deposit does not have its own seven-year surrender period, it only has two years left just like the rest of the money.

 

Nick: So, that can be a really useful tool for somebody that's trying to sock away some money, make ongoing contributions to it but still maintain access to their money. Whereas a rolling surrender charge period, each deposit has its own seven-year surrender period which can get really squirly and hard to keep track of. So, that's an important thing to look out for.

 

Speaker 1: And so, you mentioned some of those bullet points there, John, to think about, you mentioned guarantees and the insurance company and so on and so forth. Are there protections in there? A lot of times people wonder what kind of creditor protections are there?

 

Nick: So, creditor protection tends to vary from state to state, which is actually a good kind of segue. So, one thing that people may notice, especially we're in Florida and we have a lot of people that live in different states, et cetera, or at least part of the time. Insurance companies are regulated state by state. So, even though XYZ insurance company may have contracts in 50 different states, the rules and benefits that they provide in each state can be different. So in Florida, and this is always something where you want to, before you make any major decisions, you want to check in with an attorney, especially in estate planning or asset protection attorney, somebody that really works in that space.

 

Nick: But in the state of Florida, annuities fall into one of the categories that have a level of asset protection via loss, kind of joke that it's the OJ Simpson rule, why he became a resident here many years back after he was found liable in court for the murders back in the '90s were because the State of Florida provides asset protection on annuities for their residents. So, that is an area where we'll have people that are high income earners, maybe physicians, specialists in medicine, things like that, where they're very worried about asset protection, they may use annuities as a place to put money for growth but also provide them with a level of protection.

 

Speaker 1: Okay. And does that apply to a probate things of that nature in some protections, wills, so on and so forth? Is that caveat also?

 

Nick: So, probate typically is the process of essentially the court system, implementing the direction of a will or your estate and there's a fee for probate. So, because an annuity is considered an insurance contract, you can actually list the beneficiary in the insurance contract, which will allow that process after a death of the funds to transfer directly to your beneficiaries and avoid them having to go through probate to get those assets, which can be a savings of somewhere from three to 5% of the assets in there. And not only that, it keeps it private instead of a public process, which probate is, but it just is a much cleaner way to be able to leave assets by listing the beneficiaries in the insurance contract, which is the annuity in this case.

 

Speaker 1: Okay. So, let's talk about some more basics here. We often hear the term riders, make sure you get something with a rider and this has that so on and so forth, different options. John, what's a rider?

 

John: So, a rider's basically an additional piece to the contract that you can add, some type of guarantee or some type of benefit. And let me preface it by saying, most riders will have some type of cost associated to it. So, an example of a rider would be like a death benefit. You could put a death benefit rider on the contract where your initial principal payment, that's your guaranteed death benefit. So, if you were in a, we're talking about variable annuities, but if you're in a variable annuity and the market dropped, you put in 100,000 and the market dropped to 80 due to market fluctuation, your death benefit stays at 100 or there could be a rider where the death benefit could potentially increase each year by a guaranteed rate.

 

John: Some other riders could be like a principal guarantee where you can't lose any of your initial purchase payment amount. And then, the most popular one that we see is a guaranteed income rider, where it will guarantee income throughout the life of the contract similar to, when Nick was talking about what the pension and we'll dive into this a little bit deeper on how this works in some of our future sessions, but when people are asking questions like, "Hey, what is this rider?" It's typically some type of benefit or guarantee within the contract. And there is more often than not some type of fee associated with it and it's important to understand how that fee works and then how the rider works on your contract if you like that type of benefit.

 

Speaker 1: It kind of goes into the factor of, is it worth it or not for that purchase that you're making for what it is you're trying to accomplish, right? What you want that vehicle to do for you.

 

John: Yeah and with the annuities, it really all comes down to the guarantees and if that's what you're looking for. Are you going to be guaranteed against some type of loss, guaranteed some type of income and is the cost of that guarantee worth it in the annuity contract? And for some people it's great, it really gives them peace of mind and for other people, they don't want to pay that extra fee or any type of cost on their money. Anything I missed there, Nick?

 

Nick: No, I would just say the way that you want to view any sort of, really any sort of investment vehicle itself, but especially annuities are through the realm of yourself, your specific situation, your plan. Because there are so many different variations of annuities and there are lots of bad ones and there are a bunch of good ones. Oftentimes, where we see the biggest mistakes made are when people implement a strategy that was good for their friend, their neighbor, their brother, their sister, but not good for them. And so because of that, and because of that decision it's like, okay, these are bad," where instead it should have been, well hey, you used the wrong strategy, you used the wrong type, this wasn't something that made sense for you because X, Y and Z.

 

Nick: So, when you kind of evaluate these sort of things and as you kind of listen through the upcoming sessions and we talk about the positives, the negatives, some of the features and the benefits, et cetera, you really want to look at it through the realm of yourself and your specific situation because your brother, your sister, your neighbor, your friend, they may have different tolerances for risks, for expenses, their income levels may be different, they may have a pension where you don't. So, every situation is different and I think that gets amplified by a significant amount when it comes to annuities and it's part of the reason why they're so often misunderstood.

 

Speaker 1: Well, and like any financial vehicle you already said that you want to make sure what's the right fit for you. There's so many vehicles out there, so many different financial products, there's pros and cons to everything. And so, it's finding the right balance, the right fit for you. Well, we're going to wrap this up here in just a second. So, you mentioned, actually John mentioned variables, there's basically three types. So, what are the three types we will be covering on the future conversations?

 

John: Yeah. So, we're going to jump into fixed annuities and breaking down those and the pros and cons of variable annuities and then also fixed index annuities. We're really going to try to do a good job of giving people details so they have the education and the knowledge to have good conversations, whether with their advisor or for themselves to really figure out if it's the best decision for them.

 

Speaker 1: Makes sense. And so, we'll finish it off by saying, make sure you subscribe to the podcast if you haven't done so yet, they'll also send this out for those folks if you're getting that already. You can do a couple of things. You can either just go to the website, pfgprivatewealth.com, that is pfgprivatewealth.com or you can type in retirement planning redefined on whatever app you're using like Apple or Google or Spotify. You can find it on all the most popular apps as well, just type in retirement planning redefined in the search box and you should have that pop up and you can subscribe to it that way.

 

Speaker 1: If you've got questions or before you take action, you should always call a qualified professional like John or Nick at PFG Private Wealth. They are financial advisors here in the Tampa Bay area. So, give them a call at (813) 286-7776, it's (813) 286-7776. And we'll also address guys that we'll find a little bit here, it's just a bias. You kind of alluded to it. People, they hear things and it's like, "Oh, I don't even want to talk about them because I know they're all bad." So, we'll also discuss a bit of the biases for them and against them.

 

John: Yeah. So, with the biases, we find a lot of people based on stuff they read and articles and things they've listened to, they really come in with a bias, whether for them or against them. And one of the things that we like to just say is say, "You have an open mind and just learn about it and figure out if it works for your plan because if you're reading an article and it's telling you that annuities are bad, all the stuff," and I'll say like, "Fisher Investments, they're really dog annuities," but when you look at it, what they do is asset management. So, their primary focus is getting money, going into stocks, bonds, mutual funds, things like that. So, they're not really offering annuity so they're basically, they're going to be against them.

 

John: And vice versa, we've seen some advisors that aren't actually licensed but they have an insurance license and all they can offer is an annuity. And guess what's the greatest thing out there? It's an annuity for you because they can't do anything else. So, whatever you're reading, you got to kind of look at it from a perspective of, "Is this person open-minded to it?" And that's where Nick said it's really important to look at the tool, the annuity, the pros and cons to it and does that fit with your plan and what your goals are?

 

Speaker 1: Well, that's a great way to end the podcast this week. Thanks so much for your time here with John and Nick as we were talking about understanding annuities on the podcast. This has been Retirement Planning Redefined. We appreciate your time. Make sure you hit that subscribe button on whatever app you use or reach out to John and Nick at pfgprivatewealth.com and we'll see you next time.