If you’re worried about money for retirement, you’re not alone. 64% of Americans say they are moderately or very worried about having enough money in retirement. In fact, they’re more worried about retirement than yearly medical bills.
What’s the best way to prepare for retirement? Spending more time thinking about your portfolio. After all, you want to get the most out of your retirement investments.
Two products you may decide between are fixed annuities and bonds. Let’s take a look at which is better.
What are fixed annuities and bonds?
Usually purchased from life insurance companies, fixed annuities are insurance products that provide owners with lifetime income. Life insurance companies provide a fixed interest rate in exchange for a lump sum of capital.
Bonds, which are purchased from municipalities, governments, or corporations, are debt securities in which a fixed rate of interest is paid to the lender throughout the life of the loan. You are paid the principal back when the loan matures, or is due.
While fixed annuities and bonds have their similarities, they are some key differences when it comes to taxes, fees, risk, and liquidity. Let’s dig deeper.
With fixed annuities, not only is there no annual contribution limit (like with IRAs), you also can defer taxes. This makes them very useful to someone approaching retirement or with a large chunk of cash. When you begin to withdraw the money throughout retirement, you only pay taxes on earnings.
With bonds, you can actually make tax-free income. Certain types of municipal bonds are tax-exempt, meaning you don’t have to pay federal taxes on interest income you make. This makes bonds highly attractive to certain investors, especially those with high incomes and/or savings, provided the interest income is actually competitive (often, bond interest is very low).
From a tax standpoint, bonds sometimes offer you the chance to make more tax-free income, but overall earnings aren’t necessarily higher. That’s why it’s important to look at the rates being offered before making the investment. Make proper calculations and get the help of a certified financial advisor to choose the plan that can deliver you the best overall growth.
Though fixed annuities typically come with lower fees (less than 1%) than variable annuities, fees for annuities are still high. Sometimes insurance brokers aren’t entirely transparent about exactly how much you’re paying in fees, either.
There has been progress made to reduce fees, but the cost of owning an annuity is precisely the reason why it’s not as popular as before. It’s worth mentioning that the earnings annuities bring investors, especially in a high-interest rate environment, are more than enough to offset the fees. In some cases, they can be a much better investment vehicles than bonds.
Bonds, which are still praised for their higher yields, are also popular for their lower fees and commissions. This may seem like bonds are a no-brainer, but keep in mind your situation, as lifetime income does offer tremendous peace of mind. Also, think about risk.
Risk and Security
Fixed annuities can be set up for payouts over a lifetime, while bonds are paid in full at maturity. Considering that Americans are now living longer thanks to medical advancements and healthier habits, this makes annuities attractive, as many want the security of knowing their accounts are generating income regardless of how long they live. After all, 43% of Americans fear outliving their investments; fixed annuities are a viable solution.
Another positive development in the annuity world is the income rider. Lifetime annuity income riders provide investors with a guaranteed income account rate, typically around a minimum of 6–7% and sometimes higher. This can potentially allow your annual income to increase, as previous annuities only offered a “flat payout” and may not have actually kept up with inflation.
A fixed annuity does appear to remove market risk from your investment, but remember that payouts can be much lower than bonds, especially for products that have high fees and no inflation protection. In some annuities, If you die early you don’t get the full value of the annuity, and your surviving spouse or children might not be entitled to anything (unless you get a joint life annuity). Private annuity contracts also aren’t guaranteed by a federal agency, so there is a company failure risk as well.
When it comes to risk and security, bonds are seen as a way to preserve capital and earn a predictable rate of return. During any financial crisis, investors from all over the world buy U.S. Treasury Bonds, which are seen as a safe haven during tough times.
In this sense, there doesn’t appear to be much risk, but keep in mind the following:
- Bonds have maturity dates, and you’re at the mercy of whatever rates the “new bonds” are offering when the loan matures. These rates could be negative.
- Bond yields can vary tremendously if you don’t choose governments and corporations with high credit ratings. Always look at credit ratings.
- Municipal bonds do come with a default risk. For example, debt levels in Illinois should make bond investors cautious as to whether the state can fulfill its obligation.
To manage such risk, retirees can invest in short-term bonds for a much more predictable stream of income. Another good idea to avoid risk is to steer clear of bond funds, which can expose you to some bad investments.
Target date funds may also deliver low or negative growth if you’re nearing retirement, and the bond market isn’t good. For instance, due to rising interest rates, there was a bond market pullback in early 2017, which undoubtedly affected those with 2020 target date funds.
Based on your age and timeline for needing retirement money, liquidity may be a factor. Most annuities have a surrender term, usually spanning anywhere from 3–10 years. Many annuities enable you to access 10% of your investment per year, which is arguably more than you’ll need during retirement if you’ve planned well. But if you must access all of it, you will pay a surrender penalty.
Most experts recommend that you wait until maturity to access your bond investment. Early withdrawal puts you at the risk of the bond price rising or falling, and this may not be favorable to you. You could sell the bond at a discount and receive less than the principal. Holding the bond until maturity ensures you get your money back.
It’s all about balance and diversity
You’ve heard the proverb: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s especially true with retirement savings. Both annuities and bonds have their pros and cons. The best solution is to diversify and spread your assets into both annuities and bonds, as well as other investment and insurance products (like a Roth IRA and health savings account).
Whatever investments you choose, make sure your portfolio aligns with your comfort level for risk and your goals for retirement. This will help you find a balance that gives you peace of mind during your working years and financial security in retirement.