Key Questions Before Purchasing An Annuity

Some Questions to Ask Before Buying

If you’ve decided that an annuity makes sense for you, here are a few key questions to ask yourself before signing up:

1Have you done some comparison shopping and considered all of your options? Because annuities are long-term savings vehicles, you’ll want to make sure the company you pick will be around at least as long as you will. And, as you learned in the previous discussion, different annuities offer a wide range of choices, prices, features and flexibility.

2Does the rate on a fixed annuity look too good to be true? You want a competitive interest rate at renewal time. If the company is offering bonus rates (a higher interest rate for a set period of time) make sure the underlying interest rate and the company selling the annuity are financially viable. Once the bonus rate term expires, there is no guarantee going forward that renewal rates will be competitive. Be especially careful if you are exchanging annuities.

3What are the annuity’s surrender fees and how long are they in place? If the surrender fee is high (typical fees are around 6-7% and decline over a period of approximately five-to-seven years), you could feel locked into a contract from which it will be costly to escape.

4What is the track record of the funding options offered in a variable annuity? Don’t be swayed by last month’s top performer. Look for strong returns over a three-to-five-year period or more. Newspapers such as Barron’s and the Wall Street Journal – available in your local public library – publish rankings of various funding options on a regular basis. The history of various funding options also can be found in Morningstar and  Lipper publications, available in larger libraries. Remember, past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

5Does a variable annuity offer multiple funding options in case you change your investment strategy a few years down the road? Look for a range of funds to diversify your retirement savings as your needs change.

6Will your ordinary income tax rate be greater than the current capital gains rate when you begin to take distributions (possibly at retirement)? If so, you may pay more in taxes by choosing annuities over another investment that would be taxed at the capital gains rate. Keep in mind, however, that your money in an annuity is accumulating on a tax-deferred basis. By selecting an annuity, you avoid paying yearly ordinary income tax on the earnings while your money compounds and grows.

7What is the insurance company’s rating? While anyone who is properly licensed to sell insurance products (e.g., banks, brokers, agents) can sell annuities, the annuity contract is issued by an insurance company. So, you’ll want to consider the company’s rating. Is it financially secure, with a good claims paying record? While this is most important for fixed annuities, it is relevant to any guarantees (e.g., death benefit) in a variable annuity as well. Checking up on an insurance company is easy at your local library, or you can contact your state’s Department of Insurance. A.M. Best, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s all rate the financial stability of insurance company general accounts. Morningstar and VARDs evaluate and report information on variable contracts only. Variable annuities are rated by independent sources such as Lipper Analytical Services, VARDs and Morningstar. It’s a good idea to choose an annuity from a company that gets high marks from at least two independent rating sources.