Example MYGA Fixed Annuity Statement and Purchase Experience

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As a follow-up to my post about MYGA fixed annuities, here are the details of my personal purchase to help remove some of the mystery from MYGAs. I bought the Personal Choice Annuity 5 annuity from Sentinel Security Life Insurance Company. Sentinel Security Life has been based in Utah since 1948 and is currently rated B++ by AM Best. Every annuity can be different, even from state-to-state. Here were my highlights:

  • Issue date: 9/30/2015
  • Amount invested: $10,000 (minimum $2,500)
  • Rate guarantee: 3.10% for 5 years
  • Free look period: 30 days (you can get a refund within this period).
  • Early Surrender Charge period: 5 years
  • Market Value Adjustment (MVA) period: 5 years

Basically, there are big penalties if I withdraw earlier than the 5 year period, but none as long as I don’t touch it for those 5 years. This limited liquidity is a part of the reason for the higher interest rates than other products. The main reason I picked this annuity is that it had one of the highest 5-year rates for an insurer rated B+ or higher (“Secure” by AM Best). The 5-year term made it easy to compare rates against either bank CDs or Treasury bond rates. The 5-year term would also be potentially useful for creating an annuity ladder – keep buying one every year, and you’ll eventually have the improved liquidity of an annuity maturing every year.

Purchase process. As noted previously, I went with Stan the Annuity Man. The details are a bit fuzzy as it was five years ago now, but basically his office sent over some snail mail paperwork and I returned it with a paper check. You get a booklet with the annuity contract, a glossy brochure, etc.

Ownership experience. Here is how this annuity balance should grow (compounding tax-deferred) by year:

This is pretty much how it worked out for me from September 2015 to September 2020. I basically did nothing for 5 years. It was very nice and quiet! No daily stock quotes, not even monthly statements. I only received a paper statement once a year with my updated balance. There was no additional junk mail or telephone solicitations. Here was my final statement for September 2020:

Renewal process. At the time of renewal, I received e-mail and phone reminders from Stan. I decided to just go with another 5-year term with Sentinel at 3.35% as it was still a top rate and it required no additional paperwork. I have been tracking the rates loosely, and the rate on this annuity was actually around 4% during much of 2019, but at the time of renewal it had gone down to 3.35%. As of this writing, the rate is down to 3.15% and is scheduled to drop further to 3.00% as of October 30th, 2020. I could have also exchanged into another annuity from a completely different insurer, which probably would have required a bit more paperwork.

Going forward. I intend to keep renewing at 5-year intervals to a competitive 5-year MYGA until at least I reach age 59.5 to avoid the 10% IRS penalty. The balance gets to grow and compound tax-deferred until withdrawal, and I treat it as part of my bond allocation. Eventually, I will try to time the withdrawals during a period of lower income to minimize the tax hit. I could also chose to convert it into a single-premium immediate annuity (SPIA) and create a lifetime income stream. As of right now, I’m not sure if I will be buying more. It depends on when my CD ladder matures and the competition at that time. I will have to weigh the higher rates and tax-deferral advantages against the added complexity, liquidity concerns, and non-zero default risk.

This was my thinking process as a DIY investor. I am not an insurance professional or investment advisor. This is a small portion of my portfolio and it may or may not be the right product for your situation.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

MYGAs: Fixed Annuities with Higher, Guaranteed Rates Like CDs

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I’ve been seeing a lot of articles about alternatives to traditional bonds and their ultra-low interest rates. The 5-year US Treasury rate is closer to zero than even 1%, an all-time low even considering the past decade (source):

Warnings about the dangers of chasing yield are for good reason. We need to be very skeptical. In a relatively quiet corner of the annuity world, you can get a “guaranteed” rate of 3% and above. This chart from Blueprint Income (via indexfundfan) shows the gap between the top 5-year MYGA rate and a 5-year Treasury, with a rate difference of 3.20% as of September 2020. The gap is slightly smaller as of this writing in late October 2020.

This is a huge gap if the level of safety is comparable. But is it? I actually bought a $10,000 MYGA contract back in 2015 as an educational investment, but never really wrote about it because it is relatively complex and I wasn’t sure it was worth the additional effort when the interest rate gap was much smaller. But given the growing gap, I think a DIY investor should consider at least learn about it as a potential part of their toolkit in 2020.

What are MYGAs? A “MYGA” is a form of fixed deferred annuity that offers a multi-year rate guarantee. For example, they may promise an annual interest rate of 3% for 5 years. This is similar to the rate guarantee from a bank certificate of deposit. However, there are several important differences between a MYGA and an FDIC-insured bank CD.

Annuities are bad though, right? Not all annuities are the same. I like the slogan of Stan “the Annuity Man” Haithcock: “Will do. Not Might do.” In others words, look for concrete promises with no wiggle room, not a “theoretical illustration based on historical returns”. A deferred annuity should state a fixed interest rate (ex. 3% for 5 years). A single-premium immediate annuity should promise you a fixed monthly income for the rest of your life (ex. $1,233 per month). Hard numbers, not a confusing formula based on the stock market (always quietly stripped of dividends).

Annuities also have a bad reputation because many have high commissions to encourage their sale. Often, the worse the annuity, the higher their commissions. However, MYGAs have relatively low commissions, often between 1% and 2.5% upfront (one-time) for the most competitively priced ones. On the flip side, many financial advisors won’t recommend an annuity because they don’t get paid an “assets under management” fee on them (which might be 1% every year, forever!).

Early withdrawal penalties. However, all annuities do have some complications to understand. Once you buy an annuity, you must keep it in an annuity and not withdraw until age 59.5, otherwise you will be subject to a 10% penalty on top of the taxes owed. It is a long-term commitment of funds, similar to an IRA contribution. However, after a 5-year MYGA contract expires, you can simply roll it over into another 5-year MYGA with the same or different provider. This is what I plan to do until I am past age 59.5. If you buy an MYGA with after-tax money, your interest gets to compound tax-deferred until you make a withdrawal. This can be helpful if you have already maxed out your IRA and 401k limits. (You could also convert to a single-premium immediate annuity with a guaranteed income stream.) Upon withdrawal, you will owe income tax on the gains (not principal).

Additional liquidity concerns. An early withdrawal before the end of your fixed term also will be subject to another large penalty, including a market-value adjustment and surrender charges. Some MYGA contracts allow small withdrawals, like 5% or 10% of the purchase amount per year. In general, this is not a good place for “emergency funds”.

“Guarantee”. This word is used frequently with insurance and annuity products. “Guaranteed income.” This only means it is “guaranteed” subject the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. What happens if the insurance company can’t pay? This falls back onto the coverage limits of your state’s Life & Health Guaranty Association. From NOLHGA.com:

State guaranty associations provide coverage (up to the limits spelled out by state law) for resident policyholders of insurers licensed to do business in their state. NOLHGA assists its member associations in quickly and cost-effectively providing coverage to policyholders in the event of a multi-state life or health insurer insolvency.

When an insurer licensed in multiple states is declared insolvent, NOLHGA, on behalf of affected member state guaranty associations, assembles a task force of guaranty association officials. This task force analyzes the company’s commitments to policyholders; ensures that covered claims are paid; and, where appropriate, arranges for covered policies to be transferred to a healthy insurer.

The task force may also support the efforts of the receiver to dispose of the company’s assets in a way that maximizes their value. When there is a shortfall of estate assets needed to pay the claims of covered policyholders, guaranty associations assess the licensed insurers in their states a proportional share of the funds needed.

While the coverage limits vary from state to state, virtually all states offer at least $250,000 in coverage for the present value of an annuity contract. (Connecticut, New York, and Washington offer $500,000 in coverage. In California, the limit is only 80% not to exceed $250,000.) Look up your specific state’s limits here and here. Here is a reference chart (click to enlarge, source):

Unfortunately, this is not the same as being backed by the federal government, as with FDIC-insurance. It’s not even a state government backing, as only the member insurance companies have agreed to cover each other in cases of insolvency up to the policy limits. The guaranty system has not resulted in a loss to consumers within the limits since their inception in the 1980s, meaning it worked through the 2000 and 2008 market crashes. In order to be a licensed member of that association, you need to maintain a certain level of financial stability and under regular audits. Each individual insurer also rated by various agencies like AM Best, Moody’s, or Standard & Poors. In the end, there remains a possibility that an extremely large event could happen that would result in the inability of the stronger companies to help all the weaker ones. I recommend reading this paper about how the state guaranty system works in a failure.

It’s hard to put a number on the possibility of a partial loss even with this state guaranty system, but I’d definitely rather be covered with it than without. In this older 2013 post, I wrote about MYGAs and how to structure your accounts to stay within your state’s specific coverage limits.

Higher-rated insurers typically pay lower interest rates, and lower-rated insurers typically pay higher interest rates. There are different strategies on how to navigate this system. One is to decide on the lowest safety rating that you will accept, and then find the highest interest rate available with that minimum rating. Another is to simply trust in the state guaranty system and treat all the insurers as equal as long as you remain below the state-specific coverage limits. In that case, you simply buy the highest interest rate available from a licensed insurer.

If you are trying to understand what the ratings mean, first refer to the AM Best Ratings Guide [PDF], which states that “A Best’s Financial Strength Rating (FSR) is an opinion of an insurer’s ability to meet its obligations to policyholders.” followed by:

  • A++, A+. Assigned to insurance companies that have, in our opinion, a superior ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.
  • A, A-. Assigned to insurance companies that have, in our opinion, an excellent ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.
  • B++, B+. Assigned to insurance companies that have, in our opinion, a good ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.

I don’t know about you, but I would rate that as “Super Vague++”. Marginally more helpful is the fact that in the past, AM Best categorized the following as “Secure” : A++, A+ A, A- B++, B+. Anything below that fell to “Vulnerable”.

Here is another chart from AM Best that lists cumulative impairments over different time periods (via the Bogleheads forum):

It is important to note that an impairment does not necessarily mean that the insurer could not pay out the interest. It simply means that some sort of negative action was taken by a state regulatory agency. The insurer may be put under “administrative supervision” and may later exit while never missing any payments. Or, the insurer may be taken into conservatorship and the assets sold/transferred to a solvent insurer, again never missing any payments.

Again, I would spread out my MYGA contracts across multiple insurers and make sure the final size is well below your state’s contractual limits. For example, if the limit is $100k you put exactly $100k in a single contract at 3% interest for 5 years, at the end you’ll have over $115,000 and thus have $15k of your funds exposed.

Where do I buy a MYGA? I am not a insurance professional and I’ve probably missed some details. But I also get no commission if you buy one of these things. As a consumer, you should know the MYGA commission is baked inside and the upfront price is the same no matter who you buy it from. Back when I bought my MYGA in 2015, I did my own research and chose to buy from “Stan the Annuity Man”. You can find the MYGA section of his site here with rates for your specific state. I had a positive experience and would recommend him, especially if you prefer to have a reliable person-to-person relationship with good communication. I am not affiliated with Stan, other than being a satisfied customer. In 2020, there are more “fintech” options including the Blueprint Income marketplace. Both of those websites are have an educational section with more information about MYGAs in general.

At the end of your MYGA contract, you will have short (30-day?) window where you can make a 1035 transfer to another annuity provider (or renew with the same provider at prevailing rate). I was given plenty of heads up by The Annuity Man team. Again, the price should be same no matter where you buy it, so I would pick the place you think you’ll get better customer service. It might even be a local broker.

Bottom line. This is a brief introduction to a unique annuity product called the MYGA (multi-year guaranteed annuity) that offers a fixed, tax-deferred yield that may be significantly higher than that of other investment-grade bonds like US Treasuries. There are many important factors to understand, including insurer stability ratings, state guaranty limits, liquidity rules, and surrender charges. I’ve probably overlooked something as well. MYGAs are best if you are a motivated DIY investor looking for higher-yielding fixed-income investments and have maxed out your other tax-deferred options like IRAs and 401(k) plans.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Immediate Annuity Payout Rates vs. Long-Term Bond Interest Rates

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I’m still learning about immediate annuities as a potential future income stream, and came across this ImmediateAnnuities.com article about the relationship between immediate annuity payout rates and interest rates. (Note: I am not talking about indexed or variable annuities. Those I avoid completely.) The chart below shows the close relationship between the payout rate for a common type of immediate annuity (single life, 10-year guaranteed payout) and the interest rate on high-quality long-term corporate bonds.

At the same time, there is much less correlation between the payout rates and short-term interest rates. The “Fed Funds Rate” that you hear about all the time in the financial media is a short-term rate set by the Federal Reserve.

Even though annuities like to tout themselves as “guaranteed”, nominal annuities with a fixed payout are still exposed to inflation risk. For example, your contract might state a fixed payout of $1,000 a month for the rest of your life, but if inflation spikes, that $1,000 won’t go nearly as far. With 3% average inflation, your effective paycheck shrinks to only $640 of equivalent buying power after 15 years. With 4% inflation, it shrinks to $550 of buying power.

Right now, long-term interest rates are near historical low and thus so are payouts. You could argue that your downside potential is much greater than the upside as historically there are many more examples of extended periods of high inflation than extended periods of deflation. I don’t want to buy a 20-year bond paying the current market rate of 3.5%, but I really don’t want to locked in what is essentially a lifetime bond paying 4%.

Now, if you are definitely going to buy an annuity, the article does make a valid point that if you wait a year for rates to increase, that’s one less year of income you earn from a lifetime annuity. You may also opt to hedge your inflation risk elsewhere.

I’m still decades away from the age when I would like to buy an annuity, but I do think now is a very tough time for current retirees trying to create guaranteed income. The income available from “safe” investments are so low, and you do even worse after taxes. However, I simply don’t buy into the theory that inflation has gone away forever, and I personally would have a hard time buying an annuity at current rates.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Retirement Income Risks: Longevity, Sequence of Returns, and Stupidity

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annuity_puzzleOne of the first things that pops up when doing research on retirement annuities is the “annuity puzzle”. Essentially, economists have done their calculations and shown that simple, immediate income annuities are theoretically the best fit for many people. You give up some things like liquidity and upside potential, but in exchange you get the most monthly income for the rest of your life. But in the real world, only a small fraction of such people actually go out and buy such annuities.

Bob Seawright wrote a nice article at ThinkAdvisor.com that lists three main risks with managing withdrawals from your own lump-sum portfolios. An income annuity can help address these risks. I’ve added my own comments as well.

Longevity risk. People are living longer on average. Enter your age(s) into this Vanguard longevity tool. Here is a short snippet from a previous longevity risk post:

For an individual that is 65 today, there is roughly a 50/50 chance they will reach age 80. For a couple both at 65, roughly a 50/50 chance that at least one person will reach age 90.

The extreme ages are getting higher as well; quote below taken from the Seawright post:

Moreover, the distribution of longevity is wide — a 22-year difference between the 10th and 90th percentiles of the distribution for men (dying at 70 versus 92) and a 23-year difference between the 10th and 90th percentiles of the distribution for women (dying at 72 versus 95).

Sequence of returns risk. Two retirees can start with the same initial portfolio balance and experience the same average return, but if one experiences highly negative returns in the first few years of withdrawals they can end up with very different outcomes. Here is a previous graphic illustrating the sequence of returns risk.

sor_risk

Stupidity risk. If you do-it-yourself, what if you aren’t very good? The idea of safe withdrawal rates is a starting point, but even that assumes a theoretical 60/40 you-didn’t-panic-when-stocks-dropped-50-percent portfolio. I like the idea of adding some robustness with more flexible dynamic safe withdrawal rates, but “safe” is still a relative term.

Eventually, I plan to put a portion of my money into a single premium immediate annuity (SPIA). I’ll probably wait until around age 65, with a joint life rider so that it will keep paying out as long as either my wife or I are alive. I like the idea of having enough guaranteed income to cover all basic needs like housing, food, and utilities. Considering that we have no mortgage and assuming no major cuts to Social Security, I am hoping that number is not too much in excess of state-specific insurance guaranty coverage limits.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

MYGA Deferred Fixed Annuities: Maximize State Guaranty Coverage Limits

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A recent article by Scott Burns talked about investing in deferred fixed annuities with CD-like qualities, an example offered a 3% yield guaranteed for 5 years plus no surrender charges (similar to early withdrawal penalty) after 5 years. This is a better rate than current bank CDs offer, and annuities can grow tax-deferred for those saving for retirement (withdraw as early as age 59.5)*. After the 5 years, you roll the annuity over to another company if the new rate is no longer good enough. These are also referred to as MYGAs (multi-year guarantee annuities). The catch? The annuities that have the best rates often don’t have the highest credit ratings.

A possible solution? Make sure you stay under the coverage limits of your state’s Life & Health Guaranty Association. From NOHLGA.com:

State life and health insurance guaranty associations are state entities (in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia) created to protect policyholders of an insolvent insurance company. All insurance companies (with limited exceptions) licensed to sell life or health insurance in a state must be members of that state’s guaranty association.

These are not federally-backed like FDIC insurance. Instead, all the member insurance companies agree to cover each other in cases of insolvency up to the policy limits. In order to be a licensed insurer, you need to maintain a certain level of financial stability. But just like banks, some insurers are stronger than others. So if you’re going to go over the limits, the standard advice is to go with a top credit rating from AM Best, Moody’s, or S&P. However, credit ratings can go down over time, and you may be holding these annuities for many years. Therefore, it’s still safest to stay under the limits.

(You may not hear much about these guaranty associations because it is illegal for insurance brokers to use them in advertisements as a reason to buy annuities. I find this somewhat ironic, considering all the misleading statements they are allowed to make about equity-linked or equity-indexed annuity products.)

While they vary from state to state, virtually all states offer at least $100,000 in coverage for withdrawal and cash values for annuities. (Connecticut and Washington offer $500,000 in coverage. In California, the limit is 80% not to exceed $250,000.) Look up your specific state’s limits here or here.

In order to maximize your coverage, the process is similar to that for FDIC insurance – spread your money across different institutions and use different ownership titles. Let’s say you have $100,000 in state annuity coverage. The details may vary by state, but for many states that number is per owner designation, per company. The Mr. Annuity website has a helpful article [pdf] about how to structure your annuities to maximize your coverage.

If a client has $300,000 and wants to make certain all the money is protected, including future interest earnings, while taking advantage of the highest rate possible, we set up 3 contracts in Company A for $80,000 each. In annuity 1, the husband is the Owner and Annuitant. In annuity 2, the wife is the Owner and Annuitant. In annuity 3, the husband and wife are Joint Owners with the husband as the Annuitant. Then, we’ll put $60,000 in the next highest rate we can find in Company B, normally with the husband as Owner and Annuitant. That way, as the money grows, it will be protected under the guaranty laws because they are covered up to $100,000 per owner designation, per company.

I made a quick illustration of this theoretical example:

annuitysafe

Notice that you need to leave some room for growth, that way your future earnings are covered as well.

* I’m not saying these annuities are a great deal for everyone. If you are in a situation with a high-income and are already maxing all your other tax-deferred accounts like IRAs, 401ks, and are still looking for safer retirement investments with steady growth then this might be an option to consider due to the ability to get tax-deferred growth with rates competitive with current bond yields. I’m still in research mode.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Creating Lifetime Income via AARP Immediate Annuity

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While perusing through old magazines in the dentists office, I came across an ad for annuity with the usual headline “Get a monthly income check GUARANTEED for life”. I took a picture of the ad, the payout rates are below:

The specific product is a fixed immediate annuity where you pay them a lump sum and received regular monthly payments until you die. It is called the AARP Lifetime Income Program (guaranteed by New York Life and only endorsed by the AARP). There are two options to protect you in case of an early death – either a “cash refund” or “20-year guarantee” feature:

  • “Cash Refund”: if you die before your total payments equal your annuity purchase price, your beneficiary will be paid the difference.
  • “20 Year Guarantee”: if you die before 20 years has passed, your beneficiary will receive the remaining monthly payments during the 20-year guarantee period.

DIY Early Retirement Pension?

Since my wife and I don’t have any pensions to look forward to, one way to create our own pension is to buy a fixed immediate annuity. I used their quote calculator to see what I could get right now if I was 50 years old and with the 20-year minimum payout.

So with a lump sum of $100,000, I could get $445 a month for life. That works out to a 5.34% payout rate.

The “guarantee” for annuities are only good as long as the issuing insurance company stays in business, but many states have a guaranty association that provides an additional backstop. For example, in Florida the total annuity cash surrender protection per owner per member company is $100,000, and the maximum aggregate benefit for all insurance lines is $300,000. I am not a lawyer, but from what I read that means I can buy three $100,000 annuity policies from three different insurance companies, and have it all backed by the state if any or all of those insurers goes bust.

That means if we were both 50 years old right now (which we aren’t), both my wife and I could put $300,000 across different insurers and both get about $1,300 a month in lifetime that is about as safe as one can make it. Together, that’s a cap of $2,600 a month. I don’t want to annuitize our entire portfolio, but I imagine that it would relieve a lot of my stress if our basic needs could be met with a monthly annuity payment that doesn’t depend on the performance of the stock market.

Now, these numbers above do not adjust for inflation, and so will buy less and less goods each year. This is important, especially if I am going to be buying so early at age 50. Inflation-adjusted annuities are available but the payouts are significantly lower and I feel the competition is not as good. One alternative is to start small and ladder additional annuities as you age.

There are many of these types of annuities available out there. I’m not recommending this one in particular, I was just using it as a handy example for some rough number calculations. A good comparison site is ImmediateAnnuities.com.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Variable Annuity Fee Breakdown

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Variable annuities (VAs) are deferred annuities that allow you to hold stocks and bonds inside their annuity wrapper. Since the investments are allowed to grow in a tax-deferred manner, it’s often marketed as “like a Roth IRA”. In reality, they usually only make sense for individuals only after they max out all available IRA and 401(k) options. Since we do this, I’ve been doing some more research into the area.

But even then, variable annuities might not make sense due to all the fees that are often included. A 2006 “Fee Factor” article [PDF] from Financial Planning magazine does a pretty good job outlining the many layers of fees that you might encounter. Here’s a summary graphic:

Fees can add up easily to well over 2% of assets annually, and after often hidden since consumers usually only see the net return. You’ll be purchasing some life insurance benefits along with it, but buying it separately via plain-vanilla term life insurance is often a better deal. Finally, there can also be hefty surrender charges if you take out money within the first several years. (The person who sells you the VA gets a commission, and the insurance company needs to earn that back through those annual charges over time.)

As with other financial products, it’s important to understand the different features, fee structures, and do comparison shopping.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

New Marketing Trick: Short-term FDIC-Insured Bank CDs With Really High Rates

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If you still read newspapers like me, you may have come across an advertisement like this one recently touting an abnormally high 3-month or 6-month CD rate in last Sunday’s issue:

According to Bankrate, the current national average for a 6-month certificate of deposit is 0.37% APY, with their top yield being 1.25% APY. Highly-advertised Ally Bank offers less. So how can a tiny local non-bank that you’ve never heard of beat the rates of even online banks by over 2 whole percentage points?

It turns out that this is the newest version of the “free show tickets for timeshare presentations” marketing ploy. In this case, you must go into the office of an life insurance agent and listen to their sales pitch before getting the bank CD. Allan Roth over at CBS Marketwatch visited one of these offices and wrote about it. These non-bank salespeople are supplementing bank CDs from other FDIC-insured banks with their own money to reach the advertised rate. Questionable? Yes. Scam? Well, maybe not.

How It Works…

  1. You respond to the newspaper ad, and the terms always require you to physically come over to their office.
  2. After dealing with varying levels of life insurance and/or annuities salesmanship, you maintain your desire to open the account.
  3. You write the check for the CD directly to an FDIC-insured bank, with which the sales office is not officially affiliated with. This CD has a realistic rate, say 1% APY or similar.
  4. After a week or two, enough to make sure your funds cleared, the insurance people will cut you a check which together with the bank’s interest, add up to the advertised APY (assuming they are still in business).

How Much Extra Interest?

But really how much money are they losing on this? If you buy a six-month CD with an annual percentage yield (APY) of 3.35% and commit $25,000, you’ll earn approximately $418. With a APY of 1.25%, that is $156. The difference is $262. That’s basically the “bonus” that they are paying to get you into the door.

The article by Roth was initially published more than 8 months ago, so that would suggest that this marketing ploy is working and the word is spreading amongst insurance salespeople. Now, I’m sure some people will call about the CD and either not have the $25k or otherwise decided not to go for it, so that improves their bottom line. I am pretty certain that their ad targets those with large cash balances looking for income-type investments, so that they can pitch annuities with seemingly safe and high yields.

Warnings

If you still want to invest in one of these bank CDs + incentives, you should be prepared to be presented with annuities that will actually seem to yield even more that their advertised 3-month CDs. They will be carefully packaged to look like a good deal. They will be described as “insured” and “safe” because they will be backed by an insurance company. The actual yields will be computed by a formula too complex for most math PhDs to fully understand.

Next, you should check if the extra interest is really worth it due to the fact that you’ll have to deal with paper checks. If you are writing a check from a bank account that isn’t earning interest, that is some lost days of interest right there. Since you’ll be receiving the CD funds as a check as well, that’s another few business days of potential lost interest. Use my handy Ultimate Rate Chaser Calculator to see your net interest boost.

Finally, you should be sure to only write the check to an FDIC-insured institution. You should interact with them directly to ensure safe transfer of funds and proper opening of account. Double-check the CD renewal guidelines, so you are not stuck rolling the CD over for another 3 months.

Here’s a list of other companies that I found offering similar ads. Some are pretty shady in my opinion, and pretend to be an elite broker supplying high-yield bank CDs. Others are actually pretty transparent about the fact that they are offering a carrot for you to listen to their pitch. If you know of any others, please leave a comment below, and I’ll add it to the list.

  • Sun Cities Financial Group (http://www.scfg.com)
  • First Fidelity Tax & Insurance (http://www.firstfidelityamerica.com)
  • American First Assurance (http://americanfirstassurance.com)
  • Integrifirst USA (http://integrifirstusa.com)

I personally wouldn’t trust any of these guys with a $9.99 cut-n-paste GoDaddy website and a rented office with any of my personal details.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Immediate Annuity Options & Trade-Offs

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

These days, everyone has a regained respect for stock market volatility. One way to maintain a more stable income in retirement is to take part of your nest egg and buy a single-premium immediate annuity (SPIA). With an SPIA, you pay a lump-sum upfront to an insurance company in exchange for a guaranteed stream of income payments for life. You’ll usually get a much higher income than from bonds or dividend-paying stocks. However, once you die, the payments stop and your upfront payment is gone.

How much income can you get?

The two main factors that affect your actual payout are your age and the current interest rate environment, but there are also additional options to consider. Here are a few of the biggies:

  • Single vs. joint life. Will the payments be guaranteed for only one life, or the longer of two lives? This is a popular option for couples living together.
  • Minimum guaranteed payout period. Some folks may hate the idea of losing your entire lump-sum in the event of an early death, or want a minimum payout amount. With this option, you can guarantee that payments will be made for a specific minimum period (i.e. 5 or 10 years) no matter what.
  • Inflation-adjusted payments. With this option, your monthly payments will increase or decrease by a certain percentage each year, as pegged to inflation. This will protect you from decreased purchasing power in the future due to inflation, but will significantly decrease your initial payout.

Below, the July issue of Money magazine included a nice graphic that helps show how each affect your possible payouts based on a $250,000 investment. Data is from ImmediateAnnuities.com, a handy site to get free quotes.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.