investing

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.

If you're older than 59frac12;, you need to get a fix on the tax liability you would face if you cashed in the policy. Remember, the difference between what you invested and the current value will be taxed in your top bracket. It's possible that the high tax cost of cashing in will make the ongoing annuity fees seem a small price to pay to keep all your money working for you.

You may want to begin tapping the annuity rather than other sources -- such as an IRA -- as your income needs require. Although traditional-IRA withdrawals are generally fully taxable as are annuity payouts, those accounts don't carry the extra fees associated with annuities.

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