Dealing With a Bad Situation

If you're convinced that you made a mistake when you bought a variable annuity, what should you do?It's rarely worth paying the 10% tax penalty to get out before age 59½.

If you're convinced that you made a mistake when you bought a variable annuity, what should you do?

It's rarely worth paying the 10% tax penalty to get out before age 59½. But that doesn't mean you're locked into the same policy until then. It does mean that you'll have to do more shopping in the variable-annuity marketplace. Once most of the surrender period is over -- so you don't forfeit as much as 5% to 9% of your principal -- you can make a tax-free exchange (called a 1035 exchange) to another variable annuity that has lower fees and better performance. As with an IRA rollover, the money must move directly from one annuity company to the other to avoid the tax hit.

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Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.