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Advice to the Masses May Not Apply to Individuals

5bnlOa3Last week on my ride home from a meeting I had the opportunity to tune into a nationally syndicated talk show regarding personal finance. The host is very popular among listeners and has written several best sellers. Many churches and schools follow the financial program designed to educate individuals on how to set a budget, get out of debt and save for retirement. Generally, the advice given is applicable to many individuals.

Sometimes it’s not.

A listener called into the show and explained that she had approximately $100,000 in an annuity in an IRA. The annuity paid an interest rate of 2% and had a current surrender charge of 4% – just over $4,000. The caller was asking the host whether or not she should surrender the annuity and roll it over to a non-annuity IRA invested in mutual funds.

In a matter of seconds the recommendation was to surrender the annuity, pay the surrender charges of over $4,000 and find one of the host’s endorsed providers and find a mutual fund that pays 6%. The reasoning was that if the annuity was paying 2% and the surrender charge was 4%, the caller would need to find a fund that makes 6% to “break even.”

There are a few things not necessarily ideal in this situation. First, why wouldn’t the advice be to wait out the surrender period and still receive 2% interest? This was a guaranteed 2% rate! Second, why pay 4% in surrender charges to move from a guaranteed rate to a vehicle (mutual fund) that is not guaranteed? Admittedly, if the caller was looking for a higher potential rate of return, moving to a riskier investment makes sense. However, the host could have advised the caller to wait until the surrender period was over to make the move.

Finally, the caller doesn’t realize that moving their money to one of the endorsed providers ensures they’ll get a commissioned salesperson offering them front-loaded mutual funds. For many popular mutual fund companies a common break point (the point at which front end loads are reduced) for $100,000 in assets is 3.5%. This means that when the investor moves out of her annuity, they’re losing the 2% guarantee, 4% in surrender charges and another 3.5% in front end loads (commissions).

In other words, the investor would need to find a fund that would make them 9.5% in the first year just to break even. The advice on finding a mutual fund that pays 6% was not only inaccurate (mutual funds don’t have guaranteed rates) but the advice on only needing 6% to break even was erroneous!

I do agree that the annuity should be rolled over to a non-annuity IRA. Generally, an IRA annuity is overkill. You have a tax-deferred vehicle (the IRA) in a tax-deferred wrapper (the annuity)*. However, perhaps the advice would have been better if the host would have told the client to wait until the surrender charges were done (about a year or two) and then roll it over. On the host’s recommendation she’ll be out approximately $9,400 (9.5% based off of 6% lost in total from surrendering the annuity, and another 3.5% on the approximately $96,000 rolled over to the endorsed provider) and will need to make that in 1 year just to get into the black.

Generally, the advice on the host’s radio show is good for individuals needing to get out from under credit card debt or get control of their personal finances. However, this particular situation identifies an area of concern for listeners who otherwise wouldn’t know the true cost of the advice they’re receiving.


*Special thank you to David Hultstrom at Financial Architects for this terminology.

One Comment

  1. Jeff says:


    Not sure if this is the place for this question ….
    My wife and I have an annuity and just found out the term remaining is 17 years. We thought it was for seven years. She is currently 64 and I am 65. I was informed by the company we can take out up to 10% of the value without penalty, however, there would be a penalty to cash the entire annuity before the end date. I am assuming there still would be possible income tax on the money even if only 10% or less was taken.

    This sounds bad heading into retirement. Any thoughts, Jim?


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