Annuties and Baby Boomers

I’ve been hoping for a Brett Arends column I could say something nice about, and last week I got my wish in the form of  Baby Boomers to Kids: Kiss Your Inheritance Goodbye. The theme of the article, or the first few paragraphs Attrb Binary Apeanyway, is the trend of dropping a nice inheritance for the kiddies from the retirement plan in reaction to the market swoon. 

I myself am just a bit too young to be a Baby Boomer and my parents just a little too old, so I am merely an outside observer on this one. But I have to ask those kids of Boomers out there: you were expecting to inherit something? From the Me Generation? Really?

A few paragraphs into Arends’ column he abruptly starts talking about annuities. This may seem like a non sequitur, but it follows nicely from the idea that retirees may be jettisoning the legacy for the children from their planning.

One of several big challenges in planning for retirement is what is known as longevity risk. You don’t know how long you will be around to draw from your retirement kitty, so there is no way of knowing how much you can draw. Draw too quickly and you will run out of money, too slowly and you will miss opportunities to enjoy the material world.

This being a sophisticated capitalist society, there is a product specifically designed to solve this problem. It is called an annuity. To be more precise, you could buy a single-premium immediate lifetime fixed annuity on the day you retire. It will pay a set amount of money each month for the rest of your life, no matter how long that is.

An annuity is like a backwards life insurance policy. Instead of making periodic payments until your estate gets one large payment when you die, you make one large payment to begin with and receive periodic payments until you die.

Considering what a near perfect solution annuities are to a common and serious problem, it may be that the most remarkable thing about them is that they are not very popular. Most annuities sold in the US today are an entirely different animal, something called a variable annuity, a complex beast invented in the 1950s which is really a tax deferred savings scheme and offers no help with longevity risk. The centuries old kind of annuity that pays out for a lifetime is a comparatively rare item.

There are several reasons annuities are not more popular, but a big one is that, when you get down to it, retirees do not want to die broke. They may not say that out loud. Most mainstream retirement advice politely assumes that the goal is to avoid running out of money, but says nothing of the obvious side effect, that if you do not run out of money you will leave some to your heirs.

Perhaps people find it embarrassing to say that they would like to leave money to others, presumably their children, when they go. They may think it sounds un-American or implies that there is something lacking in their offspring. But, recent events notwithstanding, most do want to do it and that is why the generally preferred solution to longevity risk is not purchasing an annuity but saving more money than is likely to be needed in retirement. Longevity risk for many is one-sided. There is the worry of outliving savings, but having money left over is a good thing, not a missed opportunity.

When the markets go down and amassing more than will probably be needed in retirement looks unlikely, annuities enjoy a vogue, at least in as much as they get talked about more. But those are exactly the times in which annuities are expensive, because those are periods in which long-term risk free interest rates, which drive annuity prices, are low.

Better wait a few years for things to return to normal.  Of course, by then you will have enough optimism to believe that you can build up a nest egg too large to outlive, which will leave the little dears a little something after all.

[Photo: Binary Ape]

No Comments

  • By Rick Francis, July 13, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    It seems to me that a good strategy would be to put some money into a lifetime fixed annuity and invest the rest yourself as a way to diversify your risk.

    -Rick Francis

  • By Kosmo @ The Casual Observer, July 13, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    A good piece of advice is never to assume an inheritance.

    It would be interesting to see an actual reverse life insurance policy. You would pay monthly premiums, but the policy would only begin to pay an annuity if you hit a certain age (90?). If you die earlier, your money is down the drain. If you live longer, you cash in on the wager.

  • By My Journey, July 13, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

    There is a really cool planning technique which can be used to offset the often cited “problem” of failing to leave money to your heirs.

    You take 2 different insurance companies and let them bet on opposite sides of your life (rarely, can you get away with one company doing it). So you buy a SPIA but use some of that to buy life insurance (universal life). For example (I didn’t do any quotes) you take a 70 year old you turn their 100K into an income stream via a SPIA and then you use a Universal Product to replace some of the 100K.

    It only works in certain cases (need to have the right health rating and age) but it could solve the problem you mentioned above.

  • By SJ, July 13, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

    Yay catch-22′s…

    I’m gonna continue ignoring my mortality. woot.

  • By Dave C., July 13, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

    While an inheritance from my parents would be nice, I hope they secure their own retirement first so I won’t have to take care of them. I posted a follow-up to this on my blog.

  • By Jim, July 13, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    Yeah if people expected the baby boomers to leave much in inheritance as a group then they haven’t been paying attention.

  • By BarbaraB, July 13, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

    One problem with annuities that is rarely mentioned is that if the company you buy the annuity from goes out of business, you’re out of luck. Maybe in the past that wasn’t much of a problem but given the events of the past year or so, it’s something to consider.

  • By Glenn, November 5, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    For Your Baby Boomer Readers wanted to let you know we just posted an article based upon research listing the Top Baby Boomer Blogs >>

  • By Antony, December 31, 2012 @ 6:51 am

    Hello there, You have done a great job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this website.

  • By turmeric and cancer in dogs, March 10, 2013 @ 12:53 am

    Turmeric can be added to Green Tea (an additional anti-inflammatory
    agent) for those chronically suffering from
    the painful effects of RA (rheumatoid arthritis). There are over 100 health afflictions that Kunyit is reputed to be able to cure or
    help give relief from the symptoms. The turmeric paste is believed to rejuvenate the skin, returning the glow and the elasticity,
    thus stopping the ageing process.

  • By Relic brand, March 24, 2013 @ 1:52 am

    Fine luxury watches are sophisticated and precise pieces of equipment; the price often reflects the skilled workmanship that goes into a fine timepiece.
    If you want an authentic piece then luxury timepieces is the best thing that one can have
    and they are an investment for sure. Timepieces that retain the durability
    of a sports watch but cater to the fashion needs of a woman at the same time.

Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

WordPress Themes