Alternatives To Annuities
Though alternative investments are less dependable than annuities, they allow the retiree more control over his or her money. Rather than buy an annuity, a retiree could make systematic withdrawals from savings and investment income. To do that, a retiree must estimate how much he or she can afford to spend each year over a lifetime. But since nobody knows how long they will live, how well their investments will do, or how much inflation will fluctuate, they must rely on educated guesses. Even if a person's economic assumptions hold up over the long run, investment returns may fluctuate greatly from year to year. And, currently, after age seventy and one-half, withdrawals from funds invested in a 401(k) or traditional IRA must also satisfy complex IRS rules for minimum annual withdrawals. An immediate annuity automatically satisfies such rules.
It is important to remember that an annuity is a product sold by an insurance company, and part of the purchase price goes to cover insurance company expenses. These expenses, called loadings, cover the insurer's marketing and administrative costs.
Insurers use conservative assumptions for longevity. They recognize that only the healthiest people tend to buy an immediate annuity, and they use assumptions for investment returns that are based on investment in fixed-income securities such as bonds and mortgages. Buying an annuity also means giving up flexibility, since the buyer transfers some or all of his money to an insurance company. That money can't be used to invest in equities, for major expenses, or for health-related expenses should the buyer's health suddenly deteriorate.
Annuities are a form of insurance, just like homeowners or life insurance. As such, they are intended to cover the financial loss of rare but costly occurrences, the way homeowners insurance insures against a house burning down or life insurance insures against a young, healthy person dying. Insurance is generally not intended to cover predictable, affordable expenses. Thus, high deductibles may make sense in some situations. After all, why pay an insurance company to cover costs that can be predicted and are affordable? Accordingly, knowing that most people live at least ten to fifteen years after retirement, retirees may find it desirable to manage their own money over those years, pay for expenses until age seventy themselves, and later use an annuity as insurance against living to a very old age. In fact, younger retirees may find that an annuity does not provide much more income than fixed-income securities like CDs or Treasury securities.
Another issue to consider is the complexity and effort of managing one's own money. Often, people find managing their investments easy at age sixty-five, but more than they can handle at eighty-five. An annuity lets an insurance company do this work.
The picture also changes as retirees get older and find that an annuity pays substantially more current income than other fixed-income investments. Research in this area, though not complete, supports the concept that an insured annuity is more useful at older ages. Waiting until age seventy or eighty to buy an annuity is often a good strategy, as older retirees may be more concerned about outliving assets and less concerned about future inflation. Also, buying an annuity by age seventy and one-half avoids any violation of IRS rules for minimum required distributions.