What You Need to Know About Annuities in an IRA

What are annuities and IRAs? How do they differ?

IRA is short for “individual retirement account,” an account that you can use to purchase stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other assets to build a retirement nest egg. There are two types of IRAs, traditional and Roth.

Traditional IRA: You contribute pretax dollars — in 2019 up to $6,000 a year or $7,000 if you’re 50 or older. (Those limits are up from $5,500 and $6,500 in 2018.) When you withdraw money in retirement, it will be taxed at your rate then, which may be lower. You’ll face penalties for any withdrawals before you are 59½, and you must start taking required minimum withdrawals annually at age 70½.

Roth IRA: Annual contribution limits are the same, but you put in post-tax dollars and so withdrawals in retirement aren’t taxed. It also has more leniency when it comes to early withdrawals and there aren’t required minimum distributions starting at age 70½.

An annuity is an investment baked into an insurance policy. You pay a premium, either all at once or over time. The insurer invests that cash, and in return pays you a guaranteed monthly, quarterly or annual payment starting at a specific time and lasting a set number of years or for the rest of your life. There is often a 10% penalty for withdrawal before age 59½.

Is an IRA a good choice for your retirement?

Alongside employer-sponsored plans like a 401(k), IRAs are the workhorses of modern retirement savings. For most people, an IRA is the obvious next choice once they’ve contributed to their 401(k) at least enough to get any matching dollars from their employer.

Pros:

You have control of investment decisions and keep all the gains when your investments do well.

You can pass an IRA to a beneficiary, such as your spouse or children.

Fees on IRAs are lower and easier to understand than annuity fees.

You can pick the IRA that will help your particular tax situation.

Cons:

You have to make the investment decisions (this primer on how to invest your IRA can help).

There’s no guarantee on how well your investments will do or how much money they’ll provide you in retirement.

You need to pay attention to tax rules on how much you can put in, whether you can deduct it and when to take money out.

You could run out of money in retirement if you don’t save enough.

What to know before buying an annuity

Annuities can come in a wide variety of models, with varying time frames, payment amounts and lengths. These layers of complexity can make them hard to understand.

Some different annuity types include:

Fixed annuity: You pay a premium, then after a period of time, you get payments for a fixed dollar amount.

Variable annuity: Allows you to choose some investment options for your premium, such as mutual and bond funds. Sometimes minimum loss or growth rates are set.

Equity-indexed annuity: Will track to some degree a stock index like the S&P 500 and guarantee minimum interest payments.

Annuities are said to be “more sold than bought,” that is, brokers may be eager to sell annuities because they carry high commissions, rather than because they’re a great fit for the client.

It’s true with all investment choices, but especially for complex products like annuities:

Ask a lot of questions and make sure you understand all the details before proceeding.

Shop around, because guaranteed payment quotes can vary by provider.

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