Money accumulation is paramount as you approach retirement. However, high-risk, high-reward strategies may no longer suit your approach, as many retirees become increasingly risk-averse.
If you have savings that you want to grow risk-free, there are some options available to you. CDs, bonds, and money markets are safe, low-return ways to increase your savings over time. But fixed index annuities could provide a much greater return and are entirely risk-free.
In this post, we share the benefits of a fixed index annuity and explain how insurance companies avoid risk while growing your money.
Annuities are complex; however, they can be beneficial to a retirement portfolio if you understand them. That’s why we’ve created our “Annuities – Why Ever Use Them” series, to answer all the common questions about the pros and cons of annuities.
You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…
This post is the fourth installment in the series, so we encourage you to listen to the first three episodes to learn more about annuities. Find them on our Secure Your Retirement podcast, read the posts on our blog, or follow the links below to watch the episodes on our YouTube channel:
1. Annuity types – a quick recap
As we dive into the details of how annuities work, it can be useful to have a foundational knowledge of different annuity products. For a quick, high-level overview, here are the main types of annuities and their key characteristics:
- Immediate annuity: is a quick and simple way to get an immediate income stream. You give money to an insurance company, which redistributes it back to you as income. For example, if you bought a $100,000 immediate annuity, the insurance company could begin giving you $500 a month for the rest of your life.
- Deferred annuity: is tax-deferred with some surrender penalties. Deferred annuities can be either variable or fixed and must be committed to for a certain period.
- Variable annuity: you can use a variable annuity to invest in the stock market. Typically, variable annuities are used to buy mutual funds. There are fees, and a lot of risk involved as the market can fluctuate and so can your annuity’s value.
- Fixed annuity: is tax-deferred with a principal guarantee, so unlike a variable annuity, you cannot lose any money. However, your money can still grow. Fixed annuities can be broken down into two types, traditional and index.
- Traditional fixed annuity: similar to a CD, you lock your money in a traditional fixed annuity for a set period at a fixed interest rate. It’s a risk-free way to grow your money.
- Fixed index annuity: this grows your money using market links. You may be tied to an index like the S&P 500 or the NASDAQ. You’ll receive a portion based on the index’s performance over an annual point to point reset. This means if you start your annuity on January 1st 2021, how the index performs between January 1st 2021 and January 1st 2022 will determine what interest will be credited to your annuity.
We’re going to focus on fixed index annuities in this post. We’ll break down how insurance companies can guarantee your principal even when your annuity is linked to market performance and explain why it’s a win-win for you and insurance companies.
2. How to earn interest on fixed index annuities
There are two ways to earn interest on a fixed index annuity, either through a cap or a participation rate.
A cap prevents your principal from reducing due to market volatility. So, if you set a cap at 5%, and your annuity’s index earns 10%, then your annuity will only grow up to 5% in that year. However, if the market falls, you cannot earn a negative rate of return, meaning that your money will not decrease below your guaranteed principle or any increases from previous years.
Participation rates are similar, but instead of using a cap, they increase your principal by a percentage of how the index performs. For example, if your index earns 10% and your participation rate is 50%, then you’ll earn a 5% rate of return.
We dedicated an entire podcast episode to explaining how caps and participation rates work in detail. To learn more about earning interest on fixed index annuities, please watch the episode.
3. How insurance companies guarantee your principal risk-free
Caps, participation rates, and a guaranteed principal mean that fixed index annuities can look almost too good to be true, and you may question how they benefit the insurance company.
Some of the most popular questions we get about fixed index annuities are, “If the index drops 20%, does the insurance company have to me back the equivalent of my loss? or “If my cap is 5%, and the index earns 10%, then does the insurance company keep the extra 5%?”
The answer to both questions is no. So how do insurance companies guarantee a rate of return on your principle without putting themselves at risk?
Here’s an example. You have $100,000 to put into an annuity with an insurance company. The insurance company manages billions of dollars and earns 3% on its total assets. They want more people to invest with them, so they try to attract new policyholders with a return rate of 2.5%. This might not be the most attractive rate to all potential investors, so they take the 2.5% and create a futures contract.
A futures contract is a legal agreement to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price in the future. For example, if you wanted to buy a company's share at $100, but the current price is $150, you could set up a futures contract to only buy a share when the price hits $100.
In the case of an index fund annuity, the insurance company takes the 2.5% and puts it into a futures contract related to your index. This futures contract might state that if the index increases, then the insurance company will participate. So, if the index goes up, then the insurance company can provide you with your agreed participation rate. However, if the index is down, then that 2.5% is lost, but it has no negative impact on your principal.
Caps work in a very similar way. If your cap is 5%, then the futures contract will expire at 5%. This will give your annuity a 5% rate of return, and the insurance company will not participate above 5%, meaning that they won’t be pocketing any extra money if the index continues increasing.
If the index is down in either case, then neither you nor the insurance company will lose anything, but you won’t earn a rate of return that year. The worst an index fund annuity can do is earn a zero rate of return, but there’s potential to earn a much greater amount, risk-free.
4. Why we recommend fixed index annuities for retirees
Compared to bonds, CDs, and money markets, fixed index annuities are a good alternative to safely accumulate your money. They have no-risk and are much safer than investing in the stock market, but they have more earning potential than lower-rate products or accounts.
We highly recommend adding a fixed index annuity to your retirement portfolio, but only if you understand how they work.
We appreciate that annuities are complex and can be difficult to fully understand. If you have any questions, please reach out to us. We can discuss how annuities can work for your individual retirement plan and answer any further questions you may have. Start by booking a complimentary 15-minute call with a member of our team today.