Considering Annuity Investments for Retirement

As baby boomers enter retirement age, estate planning and sound investing loom large as they plan for a happy retirement and for leaving their children a legacy. Annuities offer a way to invest your money without the fear of losing it all to the whims of market forces.

What is an annuity?

Put simply, annuities are investments with money-back guarantees. Imagine a typical investment in stocks or bonds; then imagine that same investment with a guarantee that you'll get your money back with interest after (or over) a certain time period. That's an annuity.

Of course, annuities aren't quite that simple. Most annuity brochures and prospectuses contain enough disclaimers, footnotes, and contingencies to keep a dozen lawyers busy. But it's useful, at least at first, to ignore the complexities of annuities and take a high-level snapshot of what they are and how they work.

Many people confidently walk the financial high wire of life without a safety net. Others, especially those approaching retirement, feel more secure with a net there to catch them — just in case the tightrope snaps. An annuity is both a tightrope and safety net; it's an investment and insurance against the loss of that investment. Annuities aren't always as exciting as the investment alone (like a tightrope walker without a net), but they're not as risky.

Should you get an annuity?

This is a not a simple question. The only sensible answer is that certain annuities are right for certain people. If you recognize yourself in any of the following categories, then you should definitely explore annuities further:

  • People in high tax brackets often like deferred annuities because they can contribute virtually any amount of money to the plan and still defer taxes on the gains for as long as they like.
  • Middle-class couples in their 50s who are earning $100,000 or less and have a savings of $250,000 or more but no pension should like income annuities. They have a 50 percent chance that one of them will live to age 90.
  • Financial advisers sometimes put their wealthy clients' money in variable annuity subaccounts (mutual funds) instead of conventional (taxable) mutual fund accounts so that they can defer taxes on any gains they realize when buying and selling fund shares.
  • Pessimists who believe that the gigantic, highly leveraged house of cards (the United States' financial system) may collapse at any time, should like the guarantees that annuities provide.
  • Women are much more likely to need annuities than men. It's true. Women live significantly longer and are therefore at greater risk of running out of savings.
  • Single or widowed women are more likely to be poor in old age than single or widowed men. Many people expect that, in the future, as birth rates in developed countries (the United States, Japan, and much of Europe) fall, and the number of elderly citizens rises, a retirement financing crisis will occur. Women will probably bear the brunt of that crisis.

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