Monday, February 11, 2008

Tax-Deferred Annuities: Are They Right for You?

Five questions to consider

Think about each of the following questions. If you can answer yes to all of them, an annuity may be a good choice for you.

  1. Are you making the maximum allowable pretax contribution to employer-sponsored retirement plans (a 401(k) or 403(b) plan through your employer, or a Keogh plan or SEP-IRA if you are self-employed), or to a deductible traditional IRA? These are tax-advantaged vehicles that should be fully utilized before you contribute to an annuity.
  2. Are you making the maximum allowable contribution to a Roth IRA, Roth 401(k), or Roth 403(b), which provide additional tax benefits not available in a nonqualified annuity?
  3. Will you need more retirement income than your current retirement plan(s) will provide? If you begin making the maximum allowable contributions to both a qualified plan and an IRA in your 30s or early 40s, you may have enough retirement income without an annuity.
  4. Are you sure you won't need the money until at least age 59½? Withdrawals from an annuity made before this age are usually subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty tax on earnings levied by the IRS.
  5. Will you take distributions from your annuity on an ongoing basis throughout your retirement? You typically have the option of making a lump-sum withdrawal from an annuity, but this is almost always a bad idea. If you do, you'll have to pay taxes on all of the earnings that have built up over the years. If you take gradual distributions, you pay taxes a little at a time, allowing the rest of the money to continue growing tax deferred. In addition, if the annuity is nonqualified and you elect to receive an annuity payout, you will enjoy an exclusion allowance on each payment, in which a portion of each payment is considered a return of principal and is not taxable.

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