A combination of factors have thrust annuities into the spotlight recently. These include super low interest rates, market volatility, and a major demographic trend of retirees. With that in mind, instead of talking about annuities’ benefits, we thought it would be worth some time to focus on their downsides. Given the audience of this article (advisors), we will leave out some of the ways annuities have been mis-sold and focus on the underlying products. In terms of their core drawbacks, there are essentially three: limited upside, surrender fees, and fixed payments. Limited upside should be fairly obvious, but most annuities limit the potential upside buyers can earn in exchange for principal protection and/or fixed payments. Surrender fees are another issue, as buyers can be hit with 7-10% “surrender” fees if they try to get out of the contract and receive their principal back. And finally, fixed payments lose value quickly, especially over a long-time horizon, because of inflation.
FINSUM: Annuities are as useful as the client you are selling them to. They definitely have a role in a portfolio, but their risks and benefits need to be well understood—which has not always been the case! One key issue is that many times the same reason people need annuities—retirement cash flow security—means they are at risk of exercising one of annuities biggest downside: surrender fees.