Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

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Calico
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Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Calico »

I don't want to get into too much detail, but I have two annuities. They are index fund annuities and I am seriously considering surrendering the whole value and taking the 10% surrender fee. Then take the remaining money and stick it in two index funds (IRA and ROTH IRA). The Annuities are IRA and ROTH IRA Annuities, so I don't think there will be any tax issues, it would be just like a roll over (just with a nasty penalty).

In short, before I better educated myself about finances, I trusted a financial adviser who sold me these two white elephants. I told him I wanted to get better returns on my retirement accounts and showed him my IRA and my Roth IRA (that I had building in mutual funds for years)--he sold me an annuities and I rolled over my IRA and Roth into them. I did a foolish thing, I know. But I really trusted this man. He advised others in my family and they recommended him. But now I am trying to fix it.

Originally I planned to take out 10% from each one (which is penalty free) each year for 10 years. At 10 years, I can take everything else out without a penalty. But I am thinking of how much investing potential I will lose in that time (the cap on these annuities is 3.5%. The FA told me it was S&P index, but it's not. It's S&P up to 3.5%. Although it will never go below 0. But I don't care about that, I don't mind the ups and downs of the market. I am perturbed that instead growing my money, I followed his advise and put the breaks on it.

Tonight, I decided to really read the contracts in detail to see if there was another solution.

If I surrender early, I will have to pay 10% surrender charge on each. One annuity is $70,000 and the other is $86,000. That would mean if roll them back over into "real" index funds (which is what I want to do), I will only be rolling over $63,000 and $77,400. I lose $15,600. I hate to do that, but I think, if I do that now (instead of waiting 10 years when I can pull everything out at 0% or even pulling out just 10% each year for 10 years) I will be much better off because that $63k and $77k can earn a lot more compounding interest in an index fund for 10 years than that $70k and $86k that can only earn 3.5%.

I still feel uneasy about it though, it's a big loss to take on purpose. Does anyone know of any calculators online that I can use to see how much better the money will grow, despite taking the $15k loss?

Right now, I am also considering waiting until the anniversary date (in about 6 weeks). I can take out 10% penalty free. And then (maybe) surrender the other 90% and take a smaller hit ($14,040 instead of $15,600) on what I lose. Although I am sure if that works that way or not, the darn contract is so hard to understand. I can't figure out if they will consider it a 100% surrender if I do it in two steps.

Another option, I could just surrender one for now. Hold on to the other and take the 10% our each year. It won't be as big of a hit then.
Last edited by Calico on Fri May 15, 2015 9:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by grabiner »

These annuities tend to be complex products, but they usually have at least 2% in extra expenses. Thus it will cost you 18% to hold for nine more years, which is more than the surrender fee.

Probably the best move is to take out 10% now (if you can do that), then 10% penalty-free in six weeks, and then take out the remainder and pay the penalty. If that doesn't work (because you can't take out then 10% this year penalty free unless you commit to take it out every year), then it is worth taking out the whole thing.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by dhodson »

Obviously you arent in a good situation and i know what this is like. By the way, i do not in the insurance of finance fields, just another poster here on this site.
If you can remove 10% without penalties then this seems like a no brainer. Doing that also buys you some time to think.
While i personally would then just surrender the rest, you have to decide if you value the "guarantees" enough to put up with the likely lower potential return. Nobody can predict how the stock market will do although i personally believe (but of course do not know), that a broad index approach will beat the situation you describe including the penalties. There is no great calculator for this bc you would have to make too many assumptions. For instance what return are you willing to guess you would make outside the annuity. Are you guessing this would be constant for 10 years or that there will be negative years (when your annuity should do better). Keep in mind that there is no magic in this world so no matter what happens the insurance company needs to make a profit to stay in business. For these products they take most of the money and invest in bonds and use a small part for options. You dont get any dividends and there are hidden fees although they dont call them that but obviously they need to pay the agents, commercials, actuaries, etc.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Mel Lindauer »

You should be able to take out the 10% allowable penalty-free and then surrender the other 90% in a second step which would incur the 10% surrender fee.

As grabiner correctly pointed out, the long-term cost of continuing to pay the annual higher expenses would be higher than the penalty. And, the probability is very high that long-term, you'll likely outperform the 3.5% annuity cap on the S&P 500 return. So surrendering the annuities and investing in low-cost funds for the long term sounds like a winning strategy.
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Calico
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Calico »

Thanks.

Been reading the contracts for hours now and I think my head will explode soon.

I can't take out anything penalty free until July (but that's not too far away). I think I will do 10% out of each annuity then and after that ask for a complete surrender of the other 90%. I'll revisit all my thinking about this in the coming weeks as well since I have the time. I suppose the good thing is that I will have finally earned some interest by then too (I get interest annually, on the anniversary date). So at least that will soften the blow a bit.

I know the market can't be predicted, but I have a few decades before I retire, so I don't mind ups and downs of the market. I built up that nest egg through all kinds of ups and downs.

On the bright side of all this, at least my 401k is doing well. I am thinking whatever I take in losses when I surrender these annuities, I will pay back to myself though my 401k. I know it's not quite the same as never having lost the money in the first place, but it will make me feel better about things knowing I "replaced" that retirement money. And maybe tightening the belt more will remind me to not jump into things and trust others blindly when it comes to my finances.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Mel Lindauer »

Calico wrote:Thanks.

Been reading the contracts for hours now and I think my head will explode soon.

I can't take out anything penalty free until July (but that's not too far away). I think I will do 10% out of each annuity then and after that ask for a complete surrender of the other 90%. I'll revisit all my thinking about this in the coming weeks as well since I have the time. I suppose the good thing is that I will have finally earned some interest by then too (I get interest annually, on the anniversary date). So at least that will soften the blow a bit.

I know the market can't be predicted, but I have a few decades before I retire, so I don't mind ups and downs of the market. I built up that nest egg through all kinds of ups and downs.

On the bright side of all this, at least my 401k is doing well. I am thinking whatever I take in losses when I surrender these annuities, I will pay back to myself though my 401k. I know it's not quite the same as never having lost the money in the first place, but it will make me feel better about things knowing I "replaced" that retirement money. And maybe tightening the belt more will remind me to not jump into things and trust others blindly when it comes to my finances.
Chalk the cost up to a valuable learning experience. Hopefully this will help protect you from making similar or even larger mistakes later on. When in doubt about anything to do with investing, run it by the Bogleheads first. You'll get plenty of free and unbiased responses.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Calico »

Yep, a valuable and expensive lesson.

I've been trying to figure out what the difference would be with different options (keeping the annuity--not going to happen, but I wanted to see), taking it all out in one big surrender, or taking out 10% each year (which I can do fee-free). It's confusing and a lot of math. The only think I know for sure is that I will take about a $14k hit now.

At best (roughly guessing) leaving the money in the annuity for 10 years (assuming 3.5% cap each year) and in 10 years, taking the fully matured annuity and investing in IRA index fund (assuming 8%), in 20 years I will have $760,884 in my IRAs (this isn't including my 401k--have one of those as well).

Taking the money out now and taking the hit with the penalty... also assuming 8%, in 20 years I will have $940,000. and just for the sake of curiosity, at 6.75%, I break even with the annuity.

Taking 10% out each year from the annuity, penalty free and putting it in the IRA (and this is hard to figure) but again, assuming the annuity is still 3.5% and the S&P's average return is 8%, I will have $808,000 in 20 years (still a hit from pulling it all out, but not as bad as keeping it in either).

If I never made this mess with buying the annuity, I would have had $1M in 20 years (assuming 8%).

But who knows really. The annuity might set a higher or lower cap (even pay nothing in interest for years if the S&P is also down for years) or the S&P could take off and earn a lot that I wouldn't see keeping the annuity or even drop and I lose money in my index funds. Or I could have figured my math incorrectly. I am just using a compound interest calculator to try and get a feel for what each decision means in the long run.

Like I said, it all hurts my head. But now I am also considering pulling 10% out each year as well. I have several weeks before I need to make a final decision. Thanks again for the advice!
Last edited by Calico on Sat May 16, 2015 10:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by black jack »

I agree with your plan to cash out the annuities, even with the penalty (while following others' advice to minimize the amount the penalty is applied to).

But - are you sure the cash out penalty is only 10%? I'm surprised it's that low with 10 years left to run on the annuities.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Calico »

Yep, it's 10%.

Here's the breakdown

Surrender charge percentages that apply to my contract (first number is duration of contract second is the surrender charge percentage)

1 10%
2 10%
3 10%
4 8.74%
5 7.5%
6 6.25%
7 5%
8 3.75%
9 2.5%
10 1.25%
11+ 0%
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Mel Lindauer »

Calico wrote:Yep, a valuable and expensive lesson.

I've been trying to figure out what the difference would be with different options (keeping the annuity--not going to happen, but I wanted to see), taking it all out in one big surrender, or taking out 10% each year (which I can do fee-free). It's confusing and a lot of math. The only think I know for sure is that I will take about a $14k hit now.

At best (roughly guessing) leaving the money in the annuity for 10 years (assuming 3.5% cap each year) and in 10 years, taking the fully matured annuity and investing in IRA index fund (assuming 8%), in 20 years I will have $760,884 in my IRAs (this isn't including my 401k--have one of those as well).

Taking the money out now and taking the hit with the penalty... also assuming 8%, in 20 years I will have $940,000. and just for the sake of curiosity, at 6.75%, I break even with the annuity.

Taking 10% out each year from the annuity, penalty free and putting it in the IRA (and this is hard to figure) but again, assuming the annuity is still 3.5% and the S&P's average return is 8%, I will have $808,000 in 20 years (still a hit from pulling it all out, but not as bad as keeping it in either).

If I never made this mess with buying the annuity, I would have had $1M in 20 years (assuming 8%).

But who knows really. The annuity might set a higher or lower cap (even pay nothing in interest for years if the S&P is also down for years) or the S&P could take off and earn a lot that I wouldn't see keeping the annuity or even drop and I lose money in my index funds. Or I could have figured my math incorrectly. I am just using a compound interest calculator to try and get a feel for what each decision means in the long run.

Like I said, it all hurts my head. But now I am also considering pulling 10% out each year as well. I have several weeks before I need to make a final decision. Thanks again for the advice!
Keep in mind that many of these equity indexed annuity contracts allow the insurance company to arbitrarily change the cap or crediting method at any time, which means that you may well get less than the 3%.

Remember, too, that the S&P 500 total return includes gains AND distributions, whereas the insurance contracts normally use only the NAV price increase/decrease, so that may make your return less, too. For example, in a year where the S&P is up 1% but also had a 2.5% distribution, you'd only get 1%, not 3%.

Read the contract to see which of these possible "gotchas" applies to you. My bet is that you may find both of them apply.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Mel Lindauer »

Calico wrote:Yep, it's 10%.

Here's the breakdown

Surrender charge percentages that apply to my contract (first number is duration of contract second is the surrender charge percentage)

1 10%
2 10%
3 10%
4 8.74%
5 7.5%
6 6.25%
7 5%
8 3.75%
9 2.5%
10 1.25%
11+ 0%
The reason the surrender fee is so high is because they already paid out a very high commission to the selling agent and they need a number of years of "overcharging" the "duped" customer to recoup that fee.
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Calico
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Calico »

Mel Lindauer wrote:
Calico wrote:Yep, a valuable and expensive lesson.

I've been trying to figure out what the difference would be with different options (keeping the annuity--not going to happen, but I wanted to see), taking it all out in one big surrender, or taking out 10% each year (which I can do fee-free). It's confusing and a lot of math. The only think I know for sure is that I will take about a $14k hit now.

At best (roughly guessing) leaving the money in the annuity for 10 years (assuming 3.5% cap each year) and in 10 years, taking the fully matured annuity and investing in IRA index fund (assuming 8%), in 20 years I will have $760,884 in my IRAs (this isn't including my 401k--have one of those as well).

Taking the money out now and taking the hit with the penalty... also assuming 8%, in 20 years I will have $940,000. and just for the sake of curiosity, at 6.75%, I break even with the annuity.

Taking 10% out each year from the annuity, penalty free and putting it in the IRA (and this is hard to figure) but again, assuming the annuity is still 3.5% and the S&P's average return is 8%, I will have $808,000 in 20 years (still a hit from pulling it all out, but not as bad as keeping it in either).

If I never made this mess with buying the annuity, I would have had $1M in 20 years (assuming 8%).

But who knows really. The annuity might set a higher or lower cap (even pay nothing in interest for years if the S&P is also down for years) or the S&P could take off and earn a lot that I wouldn't see keeping the annuity or even drop and I lose money in my index funds. Or I could have figured my math incorrectly. I am just using a compound interest calculator to try and get a feel for what each decision means in the long run.

Like I said, it all hurts my head. But now I am also considering pulling 10% out each year as well. I have several weeks before I need to make a final decision. Thanks again for the advice!
Keep in mind that many of these equity indexed annuity contracts allow the insurance company to arbitrarily change the cap or crediting method at any time, which means that you may well get less than the 3%.

Remember, too, that the S&P 500 total return includes gains AND distributions, whereas the insurance contracts normally use only the NAV price increase/decrease, so that may make your return less, too. For example, in a year where the S&P is up 1% but also had a 2.5% distribution, you'd only get 1%, not 3%.

Read the contract to see which of these possible "gotchas" applies to you. My bet is that you may find both of them apply.
Oh, it can change. I know that already. The one thing I have gong for me is they set the percentage cap at the beginning of the year and they can only change it annually, so I always know what it will be at least for a full year. I can't find in the contract how they calculate things (but I will look specifically for language indicated NAV price).

I shared all this with a relative of mine who is pretty financially savvy. He told me get out of the annuity as fast as I can (same reasons said here, locks your money up, high fees, etc). But he gave me a thought to consider as well. He said, for now, just take out the 10% a year I can take out annually with no penalty. Then, next time the market has a correction (of say 20%) pull out the other money and put it in an index fund. He said this way, I am buying low instead of buying now when the market is pretty high.

It's another angle for me to consider.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by dhodson »

The problem with that mentality is that it assumes you can guess when a correction has occurred. Market timing isnt as easy as it sounds. If it drops 10% and then you take out the money only for it to drop another 10%, you will be mad and find yourself 2nd guessing the timing of it and your actions since the agent will say should have kept it within the annuity. What happens is next time it drops 10% you are waiting for the 2nd 10% drop which never happens that year so you are continuing to pay the additional charges of the annuity. Its just impossible to predict.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by grabiner »

Calico wrote:I shared all this with a relative of mine who is pretty financially savvy. He told me get out of the annuity as fast as I can (same reasons said here, locks your money up, high fees, etc). But he gave me a thought to consider as well. He said, for now, just take out the 10% a year I can take out annually with no penalty. Then, next time the market has a correction (of say 20%) pull out the other money and put it in an index fund. He said this way, I am buying low instead of buying now when the market is pretty high.
Besides the market timing issue, this doesn't make sense because you could move the money without changing the allocation. If you wanted to, you could sell the annuity, buy an S&P index fund, and write a call and buy a put option on the S&P index to cap both your gains and your losses at the same level as the annuity. You would probably come out ahead of the annuity by doing this, as you would eliminate the fees which the annuity has to charge.

Now, you probably don't want to do this specific option transaction, but you might also not want to increase your risk level by moving all the money into a stock index fund. If you don't want to increase your risk level, you could buy separate stock and bond funds to get a similar risk level to the annuity, or a single conservative balanced fund such as Wellesley or Target Retirement Income. Wellesley has a 35-year history, and I don't think it has a 10-year period in which it would have underperformed the annuity even with the surrender fee added in. Its worst 10-year period was 3/9/99-3/9/09, with a 3.82% annualized return; it would be 2.74% if you lost 10% up front. I'm not sure how the annuity return is calculated, but the S&P had big losses over those ten years.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Two Headed Mule »

The argument for keeping the annuity for the remaining nine years would be as a bond substitute. Since the fees are baked into the cap, participation rates, etc, by keeping the annuity (but taking your penalty free withdraws every year) you would earn the equivalent of a guaranteed 1+ plus percent return with the possibility of additional upside, with a 4-5 year duration. But it appears that you either don't want or need this amount in bonds, so you should probably do as you've been advised and sell (after any near-term opportunities to remove amounts penalty-free).

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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by krow36 »

Calico wrote: Sat May 16, 2015 10:50 pm Yep, it's 10%.

Here's the breakdown

Surrender charge percentages that apply to my contract (first number is duration of contract second is the surrender charge percentage)

1 10%
2 10%
3 10%
4 8.74%
5 7.5%
6 6.25%
7 5%
8 3.75%
9 2.5%
10 1.25%
11+ 0%
I saw your current thread and decided to respond to your older index annuity thread. As several posters have mentioned, there is an annual fee that is applied to your annuities. You haven't mentioned it but it is likely to be more than 1.25% which is the annual decrease in the surrender fee after year 3. These annuities are set up so that the insurance company does not loose money. The 3.5% of the S&P Index feature doesn't really enter into your decision of whether to cash out or stay in taking 10% out each year. What matters: do the annual fees that are charged against your balance add up to more than the current surrender fee? If so, you should pay the surrender fee. Many of us have learned the hard way, and the sooner you bite the bullet, the sooner you can quit kicking yourself. :happy

The other consideration is could you invest this money in low-cost index funds (equity and bond funds) at your desired asset allocation and expect to get a better return than you are now getting? I think that is a reasonable expectation and that you would be better off paying the surrender fee now.
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by MrDogg »

Seems like most annuities are designed to be sold and not bought. Horror stories abound once buyers realize how locked in they are. Even though SPIAs have the lowest fees and are the least complicated they too have surrender charges and penalties should you want out.

An alternative to an annuity is a managed payout fund. It’s sort of a pseudo annuity whereby you don’t have to turn funds over to an insurance company. In other words you fund your own annuity. This is not for everyone because unlike an annuity it is not guaranteed and does involve some risk. The upside is you can change your mind at any time with no penalty and if you kick off early your heirs get the balance not the insurance company. The downside is it is not guaranteed and there are risks that you could lose money over short or even long periods. The fund’s share price and total return could fluctuate within a wide range, like the fluctuations of the overall stock market. Here’s an example of a managed payout fund: Vanguard Managed Payout Fund (VPGDX).
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Re: Surrender annuities and take penatly better than sitting it out?

Post by Calico »

krow36 wrote: Wed Oct 18, 2017 4:45 pm
Calico wrote: Sat May 16, 2015 10:50 pm Yep, it's 10%.

Here's the breakdown

Surrender charge percentages that apply to my contract (first number is duration of contract second is the surrender charge percentage)

1 10%
2 10%
3 10%
4 8.74%
5 7.5%
6 6.25%
7 5%
8 3.75%
9 2.5%
10 1.25%
11+ 0%
I saw your current thread and decided to respond to your older index annuity thread. As several posters have mentioned, there is an annual fee that is applied to your annuities. You haven't mentioned it but it is likely to be more than 1.25% which is the annual decrease in the surrender fee after year 3. These annuities are set up so that the insurance company does not loose money. The 3.5% of the S&P Index feature doesn't really enter into your decision of whether to cash out or stay in taking 10% out each year. What matters: do the annual fees that are charged against your balance add up to more than the current surrender fee? If so, you should pay the surrender fee. Many of us have learned the hard way, and the sooner you bite the bullet, the sooner you can quit kicking yourself. :happy

The other consideration is could you invest this money in low-cost index funds (equity and bond funds) at your desired asset allocation and expect to get a better return than you are now getting? I think that is a reasonable expectation and that you would be better off paying the surrender fee now.
I just answered the other thread, didn't know this one was bumped too.

As I mentioned in the other thread, I got mixed advice between here and other sources. Here, everyone said cash out, but when I brought the actual contracts to the free financial advisor at my workplace (the guy who does the 401ks and who had nothing to do with the annuities) he looked over the contracts and advised staying the course for now (well, staying the course a couple of years ago). I also checked with another planner who was doing a call in on a TV show who said the same (he asked me to read specific parts of the contracts). He said stay the course too (unless there was a market correction that made it worth wild to pay the surrender fees). I had to chose between what I heard here (which is based off my understanding and interpretation of the contracts) and what I heard elsewhere based off those people reading (or having me read) the contracts. It was a tough choice.

Honestly, it hasn't been all that bad. Not as bad as I thought anyway.

As I mentioned in the other thread, I am confused by the interest I've earned. I did the math for the other thread and on one annuity, I earned 7.2% on both over the last two years. Which confuses me because I swear it says the cap is up to 3.5%. It says in black and white, "3.50% annual cap." There is something called advanced withdraw benefit. I think if they are basing the interest off that dollar amount (and not my initial investment), that makes it close to the 7.2%.

In either case, in the other thread, I am not contemplating cashing out. I am waiting. If the market corrects more than 10%, I will cash out. Next year, I will cash out if the market drops 8.74% or more. Basically, I am following the surrender fee. The only down side is it takes a few weeks to do so, so the market may go up again a little. But that's okay.

My plan for now is to continue to take 10% out a year. My question was, should I start considering putting that 10% a year into bond funds vs. stock funds. I am thinking the annuity might be "bond-like" and wanted input on that.

You bring up a good point on the fees. Finding the fee in the contract is a pain (just like finding anything else in it). It's about a 50 page book (the pages aren't numbered) and I can't find anything about fees aside from early withdraw fees and surrender fees. I logged into my online account and there is nothing. I even tried Googling it and can't find anything.
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