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Why Would Somebody Buy a Deferred Lifetime Annuity?

After our recent discussion about the new “qualifying longevity annuity contract” rules, several readers wrote in to ask why anybody would buy a deferred fixed lifetime annuity — a product which has a significant likelihood of paying nothing whatsoever (i.e., in the case that the annuitant dies before the income kicks in).

Relative to an immediate lifetime annuity, the advantage is simply that you have more liquid assets available after the purchase of the annuity. This is preferable for a few reasons:

  • If you die soon after purchasing the annuity, your heirs get a lot more money, given that a smaller portion of your overall net worth went toward the annuity purchase;
  • You have more liquidity, which is good for handling unexpected expenses; and
  • You have more of an upside, given that more of the portfolio will remain to be invested in asset classes with higher expected returns (namely, stocks).

How About an Example?

Juanita just retired at age 70. She wants $45,000 of total income per year. She has $20,000 of annual Social Security income, meaning that she needs an additional $25,000 per year to come from her portfolio. She could purchase an immediate lifetime annuity paying $25,000 per year for $337,051 (based on a quote from Income Solutions).

Alternatively, she could purchase a deferred lifetime annuity, for which the payments start at age 85. If she purchased such an annuity right now at age 70, it would cost $68,479, thereby leaving her with an additional $268,572 in liquid assets relative to purchasing an immediate annuity. (Of note, however, is that the goal for this money is to satisfy $25,000 of annual spending from age 70 to age 85.)

But There’s a Catch

Our example above has one big problem: We’ve ignored inflation. In reality, Juanita probably wants to spend $45,000 adjusted for inflation every year for the rest of her life.

And that brings up my major qualm with deferred lifetime annuities: They leave you with quite a bit of inflation risk. You can purchase deferred lifetime annuities with an inflation adjustment, but, with the only such annuities I’ve seen, the adjustment doesn’t kick in until the income kicks in. For example, if you purchase an inflation-adjusted deferred annuity at 65 that will begin paying you $1,000 per month at 85, you really do get just $1,000 per month at 85. It’s only inflation after age 85 for which you would be protected. If there’s a ton of inflation between age 65 and 85, tough luck.

In contrast, with an immediate lifetime annuity, the inflation adjustments begin immediately — thereby making immediate annuities significantly more useful as a tool for creating a safe “floor” of income (i.e., for ensuring that your standard of living does not drop below a certain level).

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