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Retirement savings strategies

The financial markets often present challenging times to those trying to plan for their future. Uncertainties can make it difficult to feel good about retirement strategies. Limited availability of traditional retirement income sources, such as defined benefit pension plans, alongside increased costs of living, whether in the area of health care or simply because Americans are living longer, has placed a greater responsibility on Americans to save for their future.

With this greater responsibility comes a need for possible financial solutions that can help provide a level of protection for retirement savings. Whether your long-term objective is to build a source of guaranteed lifetime income, save for a specific retirement goal, or leave a legacy for your loved ones, we are here to help you.

We offer financial vehicles that are effective in providing potential for accumulation, growth and safety of principal in challenging times, and that can help you feel confident about your retirement savings strategies.

Fixed index annuity

A fixed index annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company that may help you reach your long-term financial goals. In exchange for your premium payment, the insurance company provides you income, either starting immediately or at some time in the future.

How a fixed index annuity works

Most fixed index annuities have two phases. First, there’s an accumulation phase, during which you let your money earn interest. This is followed by a distribution or payout phase, during which you receive money from your annuity.

A fixed index annuity also guarantees you will receive at least the minimum guaranteed interest credited to the contract. Remember that all of these guarantees are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuing company.

With a fixed index annuity, you defer paying taxes on your contract’s interest until you receive money from the contract. Tax-deferred interest means the money in your contract can grow faster.

Your principal and bonus are never subject to market index risk. A downturn in market index(es) cannot reduce your contract values.

Phase one: accumulation

The accumulation phase begins as soon as you purchase your annuity. Your annuity can earn a fixed rate of interest that is guaranteed by the insurance company or an interest rate based on the growth of an external index.

Phase two: distribution

The distribution phase of a fixed index annuity begins when you choose to receive income payments. You can always take income payments in the form of scheduled annuitization payments over a period of time, including your lifetime. And many fixed index annuities allow you to take income withdrawals as an alternative to annuitization & payments. Either way, you can choose from several different payout options based on your personal needs, including options for lifetime income, guaranteed.

Insurance Company:

This is the company that issues the annuity. The insurance company is responsible for backing the annuity’s guarantees.

Contract Owner/Annuitant:

These usually are the same person, but they can be different. The owner makes decisions about the annuity, such as who the beneficiaries are. The annuitant is the person whose life expectancy is used to calculate annuity payments.

Beneficiary:

The beneficiary is the person who receives the annuity’s death benefit. Naming one or more beneficiaries is important, because without a beneficiary, the money in your annuity could be subject to probate.

A death benefit can be paid to your beneficiary without probate.

A fixed index annuity (FIA) offers a unique combination of benefits that can help you achieve your long-term goals. No other product offers the tax deferral, indexed interest potential, and optional benefits to protect your retirement assets and income.

Let’s take a closer look at the three key benefits of fixed index annuities: tax deferral, indexed interest potential, and protection.

Tax Deferral

Under current federal income tax law, any interest earned in your fixed index annuity contract is tax-deferred. You don’t have to pay ordinary income taxes on any taxable portion until you begin receiving money from your contract. Withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income and, if taken prior to age 59½, a 10% federal additional tax may apply.

Indexed Interest Potential

Fixed index annuities provide an opportunity for potential interest growth based on changes in one or more indexes. Because of this potential indexed interest, FIAs provide a tailored potential for accumulation. And since the interest your contract earns is tax-deferred, it may accumulate assets faster. In addition to potential indexed interest, FIAs can offer you an option to receive fixed interest.

Protection

Fixed index annuities offer you a level of protection you may find reassuring. That protection can benefit you in three separate ways:

Accumulation: Your principal and credited interest are protected.
Guaranteed Income: You can be protected from the possibility of outliving your assets.
Legacy: If you pass away before annuity payments begin, a fixed index annuity may help you provide for loved ones.
A Fixed Index Annuity Offers Tax Advantages

During the accumulation phase of your contract, any interest growth is tax-deferred. If you purchase your fixed index annuity with after-tax dollars, you will only pay ordinary income taxes on your earnings – not on your premium payments – when you begin withdrawing money. Tax-deferred growth, compounded over time, may increase the amount of savings and income your fixed index annuity generates for your retirement.

Tax deferral is also a benefit of traditional IRAs and 401(k)s. However, annuities don’t have any government-imposed contribution limits. Because of that, they can often be a good choice if you want to save more than IRAs and 401(k)s allow and still enjoy tax-deferred growth potential.

Purchasing an annuity within a retirement plan that already provides tax deferral results in no additional tax benefit. So use an annuity to fund a qualified plan based upon features other than tax deferral, such as lifetime income options or the guaranteed death benefit.

Tax-deferred growth, which can compound over time, may increase the amount of savings and income your fixed index annuity generates for your retirement.

Another advantage of a fixed index annuity is the opportunity to accumulate interest based on changes in an external index.

Some FIAs offer you a choice of indexes rather than just one. In addition to choosing your indexes, you can also determine what portion of your annuity’s value will be based on each index chosen.

Although an external market index or indexes may affect your contract values, the contract does not directly participate in any stock or equity or bond investments. You are not buying shares of any stock or index fund.

FIA’s Indexed Interest Potential

When you purchase a fixed index annuity, you can allocate its value to one or more chosen indexes. A crediting method is then used (which will be defined later) to track the performance of your index(es). At the end of each contract year, the indexed interest is calculated.

If the result is positive, you will automatically receive indexed interest, subject to a participation rate and a cap or spread (which will also be defined later). That interest is locked in each year and cannot be lost due to index declines at some point in the future.

If the result is negative, nothing happens – and that can be good news! Although you won’t receive any indexed interest for the year, your annuity’s value doesn’t decline.

Factors that influence how a FIA’s indexed interest is calculated

When you purchase your fixed indexed annuity, you can often choose the index(es) to which you allocate your annuity’s value. You can also choose the crediting method used to track changes in your chosen index(es). Before discussing those crediting method choices, it’s good to look at some other factors that will affect how your indexed interest is calculated.

Cap:

Some fixed index annuities set a maximum rate of interest (or cap) that the contract can earn in a specified period (usually a month or year). If the chosen index increase exceeds the cap, the cap is used to calculate your interest.

Participation Rate:

In some annuities, a participation rate determines how much of the index increase will be used to calculate your indexed interest. (Participation rates are generally applied after caps, and before a spread.)

Spread:

The indexed interest for some annuities is determined by subtracting a percentage from any gain the index achieves in a specified period. For example, if the annuity has a 4% spread and the index increases 10%, the contract is credited 6% indexed interest.

FIA Crediting Method Choices

No single crediting method consistently delivers the most interest under all market conditions.

A quick definition of some popular crediting method choices is provided below. For a better understanding of how each crediting method works, talk to us and we are happy to provide you with additional information. Keep in mind that caps, participation rates, and spreads will also enter into the calculation of indexed interest, and may reduce the amount of interest credited.

Annual point-to-point. This method tracks changes in the market index from one contract anniversary to the next and credits interest based on that annual change.

Monthly sum. With this method, individual monthly increases and decreases in the index values are tracked and added up. Their sum helps determine the indexed interest credited to the annuity.

Monthly average. For this method, the individual monthly index values are totaled, and then divided by 12 to find the average. The starting index value is subtracted from the average to determine the amount of positive or negative index change. This amount is divided by the starting value to determine the percentage of interest credited to the annuity.

The Benefits of Automatic Annual Reset

Annual reset is a common FIA feature. At the end of each contract year, your annuity’s index values are automatically reset. This means this year’s ending value becomes next year’s starting value. Annual reset also locks in any interest your contract earned during the year.

Protection Benefits

A third important advantage of a fixed index annuity is the range of guarantees and optional protection benefits available. These benefits allow you to transfer risk to the insurance company issuing the fixed index annuity. These guarantees help protect your assets, your retirement income, and your beneficiaries. In exchange for the risk transfer, the benefits may carry an additional cost that will vary by product and company.

Accumulation

Annuities are subject to surrender charge periods which can vary, but are generally between 5 and 10 years in duration. As long as you abide by the terms of your contract, you will not lose any of the money you place in your annuity due to surrender charges. And any interest credited to the contract is locked in and protected as well.

Guaranteed Income

A fixed index annuity puts you in control of your future income, based on the annuity you choose and how much money you put into it. After your contract has had an opportunity to earn interest over its deferral period, you can begin distribution. You can then receive your contract’s values in a stream of income that will last your lifetime (or longer). The amount of your payments is based on the value of the contract on the date you begin distribution and the payout schedule you choose.

You generally have two choices for receiving income payments: annuitization payments or income withdrawals. Each of these payment types is taxed differently. For annuities that are not held in a qualified plan, such as an IRA or a 401(k), part of each annuitization payment is a tax-free return of what you paid for the annuity and part is taxable as interest you earned on the annuity. On the other hand, income withdrawals under the same annuity are fully taxable until the interest you earned has been taxed. Then you withdraw what you paid for the annuity tax-free. It’s always a good idea to consult with your tax advisor before choosing between annuitization payments and income withdrawals.

Protection With Income That Can Increase

As we noted, a FIA allows you to convert your annuity’s value into a series of fixed-amount payments. Depending on the product you choose, many FIAs go beyond this. They offer benefits or optional income riders with payments that can increase to help you keep pace with rising costs throughout your retirement.

Your income payments will be scheduled as withdrawals you can begin anytime after you reach a certain age (often age 60). And with some FIAs, your income payments will be larger if you postpone taking them for a few years.

These income riders or benefits provide a valuable benefit, but they usually come at a cost. Talk to us about the income options offered by the FIA you are considering, and be sure you understand any costs and restrictions.

Please note that withdrawals may be subject to regular income tax and, if taken prior to age 59½, a 10% federal additional tax may apply.

Death Benefit

If you pass away before you begin to receive scheduled annuity payouts of the contract’s value, your beneficiary will receive a death benefit. And in some cases, even if you pass away after you’ve begun to receive income from the annuity, it’s still possible your beneficiary will receive a death benefit. Your beneficiary may choose to receive your contract’s values in a single payment or in a series of payments over time.

The death benefit may be a reason some individuals purchase annuities even though they have no immediate plans to receive their contract values. They simply want to know the money is available (may be subject to a surrender charge) should they need it – and that it can be passed on to their beneficiaries if they don’t use it.

Financial Strength

Because the guarantees in an annuity are important, it’s important to consider who backs those guarantees. The guarantees are backed solely by the insurance company that issues the annuity. That’s why you should know about the financial strength and stability of the company. Ask about their:

Ratings – independent agencies’ opinions of a company’s strength and ability to meet its ongoing insurance policy and contract obligations.
Risk management capabilities – a company’s track record of successfully hedging against potentially extreme market events.
Management philosophy – a company’s commitment to stability and reliable, long-term performance.

 

   
   
 
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