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retirement

When a Deferred-Income Annuity Makes Sense

Some retirees may benefit from investing part of their nest egg in a longevity annuity.

If your family tree is filled with people who lived well into their eighties or nineties, a deferred-income annuity is worth a look.

See Our Ask Kim Column: Good Reasons to Buy a Deferred-Income Annuity

Deferred-income annuities, also known as lon­gevity annuities, provide a guaranteed source of income when you reach a certain age. For example, a 65-year-old man who invests $100,000 in New York Life’s Guaranteed Future Income Annuity and defers payouts for 15 years will receive $28,695 in guaranteed annual income, beginning when he turns 80.

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The downside, of course, is that if you die before you reach 80, you get nothing. But the chance that other buyers might die before collecting is one reason insurers offer a higher payout for this kind of annuity than for other products that offer guaranteed income.

A recent Treasury Department ruling offers another reason to consider a deferred-income annuity. You may now invest up to 25% of your IRA or 401(k) plan (or $125,000, whichever is less) in a deferred-income annuity without having to take required minimum distributions when you turn 70½.

Before the Treasury ruling, some insurers only allowed investors to use money from taxable accounts to purchase deferred-income annuities. Others required purchasers who used money from tax-deferred accounts to start receiving payouts at age 70½, reducing the size of the payments.

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The Treasury ruling is expected to encourage more insurers to add deferred-income annuities to their lineups. So even if the idea sounds tempting, you may want to wait a few months before buying one because competition could lower prices, says David Blanchett, head of retirement research for Morningstar Investment Management.

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Annuity add-ons. Insurers offer a variety of features designed to help potential customers overcome the reluctance to give up control of their money. Some insurers allow you to withdraw a portion of your future payments to cover emergencies. Most deferred annuities offer a “return of premium” death benefit that kicks in if you die before you start receiving income. However, if you select this feature, your payments will be lower. In the example above, the cash-refund feature would reduce the 65-year-old man’s annual payout at 80 from $28,695 to $21,601.

A deferred-income annuity may allow you to invest over time, instead of parting with a large lump sum. For example, New York Life lets purchasers invest $5,000 initially and make periodic investments of as little as $100 until two years before the payout period begins, says Ross Goldstein, New York Life’s managing director. The amount of guaranteed income is adjusted each time the customer adds to the account.

Some insurers will increase your annual payments each year by a set percentage or a percentage tied to the consumer price index. But that comes at a price. If the 65-year-old man invests in New York Life’s Guaranteed Future Income Annuity with a 3% annual increase, his first annual payout at age 80 would be $24,300 (15% less than his payment without the inflation rider). The annual payout drops to $18,140 if he chooses the cash-refund option as well as the inflation rider.

That trade-off may not be worth it. Studies have found that retirees’ expenses—with the exception of health care—decline as they age (see How Much You Really Need to Retire). By the time you start taking payouts from your annuity, Goldstein says, “inflation is not going to be your biggest problem.”

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