We live in a society that wants to stay young forever, so it's no surprise that annuities are a part of retirement planning. With an annuity, you invest a set amount of money and then get a monthly payment for the rest of your life. So if you're looking to stay young and live forever, a dependable income stream could rank right up there with Botox and the push-up bra. The problem is that while annuities offer tax-deferred growth on your investment, there are so many hidden fees that actually outweigh the tax efficiency. There are tons of setup and administrative fees as well as steep surrender charges if you need the money before your retirement; annuities sold by insurance companies often carry extremely high fees, so tread carefully. But if you've put as much money as you can into your 401(k), Roth IRA or traditional IRA, then an annuity could be a great way to continue your tax-deferred savings if you truly understand these products.
start withdrawing at age 59-and-a-half. At that time, you'll owe ordinary income tax on the earnings. Both will hit you with a penalty if you withdraw the money before age 59-and-a-half.
The upside to an annuity, though, is that there aren't any contribution limits. With a nondeductible IRA, your 2005 contributions are limited to $4,000 a year, with an additional $500 allowed for folks age 50 and above. With an annuity, there are no limits. You can put in as muchas you want each year. And you are not forced to start withdrawing from your annuity at age 70-and-a-half, as with an IRA. You can leave the money in your annuity as long as you like. Sounds good so far, right? Don't get too excited, the catch is coming.
For example, Vanguard's basic annuity will run you around 0.67%. So on a $100,000 investment, you'd pay $670 per year -- a $1,680 savings vs. the $2,350 annual cost of the average annuity, notes Nestor. Schwab's expense ratio hovers around 0.95%. But aside from the high fees, the reason these things get such a bad rap is because they're often sold to the elderly who are enthused by the notion of a constant payment stream. But unfortunately, many don't fully understand the fee structure and get burned if they need to withdraw the money from the account too soon. "So while the ability to let your money grow tax-deferred is appealing, there are long-term concerns about the fees and expenses and level of tax inefficiency," says Bill Fleming, directorof personal financial services at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hartford, Conn. And one more bummer. A variable annuity is "the worst thing for your heirs to inherit because there's no step-up in basis," says Nestor. That means, for tax purposes, your heirs will owe ordinary income tax on the account's value from the day you opened the annuity. So if you bought afund for $100 and it's worth $1,000 at your death, they'll owe tax on the growth, or the $900. With a regular mutual fund, your heirs will get the "step-up in basis" and won't owe a dime. Instead, they'll have a $1,000 investment in their portfolio.