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Be Like Burt?

Dennis Friedman

I RECENTLY HAD LUNCH with four friends I’ve known since the seventh grade. Because of the pandemic, this was the first time we’d all seen each other in more than a year. Every time we’re together, I’m reminded of how important my friends were in helping me start a new life when I left home for the first time. Our continuing support for each other is probably the reason we’ve stayed close for 57 years.

At lunch, we spent a great deal of time talking about our health. It seems that’s the way it goes when a bunch of 70-year-old retirees get together. Burt, who is overweight and loves his beer, might be the healthiest of the group. He doesn’t take any medication and jokes that his diet consists primarily of junk food.

After a while, the conversation veered off into a discussion about money. Burt tells us that he doesn’t think he’ll run out of money. I don’t doubt what he’s saying. Burt worked in the aerospace industry and earned an above-average wage with excellent benefits.

You might assume he’s careless with money because of his undisciplined eating habits. But Burt was a good saver, which I’m sure was important in helping him achieve financial security. He and his wife still live in the same two bedroom, 840-square-foot house they bought in 1977. They raised two boys in that house, who shared the same small bedroom until the oldest left home.

Listening to him, what I found so fascinating is the amount of money he has in annuities. He’s a multimillionaire who has about half his money in income annuities and the other half in stocks. He has no bonds in his investment portfolio. With this strategy, he’s confident he’ll never outlive his money, while leaving a legacy for his children.

That got me thinking: Should my wife and I put our retirement money in income annuities rather than bonds? With a lifetime income annuity, you give money upfront to an insurer, which then provides you with guaranteed income for life. The insurer might start paying that income right away or at a predetermined date in the future. The payments are fixed. The amount is based on your current age, the age at which you start receiving income, your gender and the amount of money you invest.

Two of the most common annuities are immediate fixed annuities and longevity insurance. These are the two types that Burt and his wife own.

An immediate fixed annuity, sometimes referred to as a single premium immediate annuity (SPIA), is the simplest annuity you can buy. Based on how much money you give an insurer today, you receive a monthly stream of income for life.

Longevity insurance, also known as a deferred income annuity (DIA), is designed for people who want income starting at a predetermined future age. The initial investment might be made up to 40 years before receiving income.

I would never do what Burt did and have all our fixed-income money in annuities. I wouldn’t want to lock up that much of our retirement money in something that’s illiquid and doesn’t provide a high rate of return. That said, I could see buying an annuity that would bridge the gap between what we get from Social Security and what we spend on nondiscretionary expenses that we couldn’t live without, such as housing and food. That way, our basic retirement expenses would be covered for as long as my wife and I live, while allowing us to invest more heavily in stocks.

There’s another reason I think an annuity could play an important role in our investment portfolio. If we bought a qualified longevity annuity contract (QLAC), we could reduce the taxes we pay on our required minimum distributions (RMDs). A QLAC is a type of deferred income annuity that can be funded using an IRA or other pretax retirement savings plans.

Using IRA money to fund a QLAC reduces the balance subject to RMDs, resulting in lower taxes. Also, you don’t pay any taxes on the annuity money until you start receiving the income payments, thereby allowing you to continue deferring taxes.

I think these are good reasons to own an annuity. Still, after thinking it over, I wouldn’t buy one. I made one bet on my longevity by delaying Social Security until age 70. I’m not willing to place another bet by buying an annuity, especially when I’m convinced our stock and bond funds will provide us with a lifetime of income.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on Twitter @DMFrie.

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