When the 401(k) was introduced a little over three decades ago, it was intended to supplement monthly checks from Social Security and employer-sponsored pension plans. Today, many pensions are gone, Social Security has a funding problem, and the primary responsibility for providing a steady retirement income falls to individuals and their 401(k) accounts. For the thousands of Americans retiring each day, there’s a growing sense that the task of turning their savings into monthly checks is one they either don’t
It is becoming increasingly clear that getting through retirement by living off investments is too difficult and unpredictable for most of us. This uncomfortable conclusion has been driving the government, employers and particularly insurers to seek out an alternative — something that functions a lot like an old-fashioned defined benefit pension plan.
This nostalgia for an “old-fashioned defined benefit pension” plan is because it promised a lifetime income for the retiree (and in most instances, a surviving spouse) from a formula based on a worker’s earnings and years of service. In contrast, 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans deliver a lump-sum at retirement (with the amount dependent on contributions and investment performance), then leave distribution to the discretion of the retiree. Many retirees adopt one of two prevalent income-producing strategies for lump-sum accumulations:
- Taking earnings (interest, dividends, capital gains) as income while preserving principal.
- Systematically drawing-down earnings and principal, based on an annually adjusted percentage of assets.
Both approaches require ongoing management by the retiree, and neither has the guarantee of a lifetime income. These shortcomings become greater concerns as one
But as attractive as a pension might seem, there are good reasons for their demise.
Pensions: Too Many Ingredients
Pension plans are like sausage; we may like the taste, but most of us don’t know (or want to know) the ingredients. A pension is a constantly changing mix of past, current and future participants that
These complexities, with their uncertain costs and the attendant liabilities, explain why many employers have jettisoned pensions. And of the pensions still in existence, many are in poor financial condition (including Social Security, the nation’s biggest pension). A Wilshire Consulting report found that “87 percent of the 92 state retirement systems that reported data for the 2014 fiscal year were underfunded.” Historically, the destiny of most pension plans is either suspension or implosion, with the risk that some retirees will not receive what they were promised.
Annuities: Fewer Ingredients, Better Results
A better option for a guaranteed retirement income could be an individual life annuity. In this arrangement, an insurance company promises a lifetime stream of payments in exchange for a lump-sum premium. Annuity contracts offer a range of payment options, but to replicate a pension, an individual would typically select a life and joint survivor format, which guarantees monthly payments for an individual and a surviving beneficiary for as long as one of them is alive.
Similar to a pension plan, a life annuity insures against three significant retirement risks:
- Longevity risk — the risk of outliving one’s assets.
- Market risk — the risk that fluctuating asset values might decrease income.
- Management risk — the risk that mismanagement, whether due to ignorance or diminishing mental capacity, could result in loss of principal and income.
A life annuity is similar to a pension plan in that the insurance company provides lifetime incomes for all participants by averaging out the costs of those who live past life expectancy against those who die early. By pooling resources, everyone’s risk is diminished, and every annuitant can expect a guaranteed income.
You might say the annuity’s ingredients for providing a lifetime income are of better quality. Unlike a pension, the insurance company doesn’t have to plan for an unknown number of future participants; it only provides income for those who buy an annuity. And the plans are fully-funded up front; no future payments are required to maintain benefits. Because the mechanics are simpler (and the financial regulation is stricter), insurance companies have a stellar track record for keeping their lifetime income promises. What’s more, in many scenarios, an annuity may provide a higher monthly income than either principal-conserving or draw-down strategies – while guaranteeing it for life.
Pension Ignorance Impacts Annuity Utilization
In consideration of these advantages in both income and guarantees, economists have long recommended annuities as being the optimum instrument for turning accumulated assets
into streams of guaranteed income. But retirees have been slow to embrace individual annuities, in large part because of their “
A decision to buy a life annuity is usually irrevocable. If annuitants die before life expectancy, there is no “refund” of the unused premium; the excess is used to ensure those who live beyond life expectancy will get their checks as promised.
This arrangement is not different than a pension. The difference is a pension is funded by an employer. In theory, the cost of providing a pension comes from a reduction in an employee’s compensation, but this cost is hidden. It’s not a deduction on a pay stub, and it doesn’t show up on a W-2.
With a pension, employees didn’t see how the sausage was made, and psychologically, they didn’t pay for it. With an annuity, retirees see the
Other Ingredients – And Help to Put Them Together
If you are retiring with a lump-sum, your income-generating options are not restricted to choosing between a draw-down schedule or a life annuity. There are almost infinite ways to combine guaranteed insurance products with other financial assets to deliver a mix of reliable income, sufficient liquidity, and minimized management responsibility. Every situation is different, but it is worth exploring these options with a financial professional.
This newsletter is prepared by an independent third party for distribution by your Representative(s). Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed reliable, please note that individual situations can vary, therefore the information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice. Links to other sites are for your convenience in locating related information and services. The Representative(s)
Lifetime Financial Growth is an Agency of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Securities products and advisory services offered through Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS), member FINRA, SIPC. PAS is an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian. Lifetime Financial Growth is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian. #2017-45560 Exp. 8/2019
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