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Annuities: Better Alternatives Than Equity-Indexed Annuities

Aug 17, 2007
Equity Indexed Annuities (EIAs) have become the hot product of late. I believe you can easily find other alternatives that will bring a better return, without locking up your money or levying hefty surrender penalties. I'll discuss these alternatives in the next two articles. But first, you should understand two things: your purpose for investing and how EIAs work.

Know why you're investing. For simplicity let's consider two objectives--stability and growth. If you are primarily concerned about protecting your investment and earning a stable rate of return then your main objective is stability. On the other hand, if you are concerned about protecting yourself from rising prices, building a retirement nest egg or growing your wealth then your primary objective is growth.

It's unlikely that your objective will be 100% stability or 100% growth. Usually it will be a combination of the two. For instance, if you're 55 years of age and preparing for retirement, perhaps you'd want about 40% of your portfolio invested in 'stable' investments such as bonds or CDs, and 60% invested in equities such as stock mutual funds.

On the other hand if you're 75, stability may be more of an issue for you. You still want to plan for inflation, but your objective is very different from a 55 year-old. You might have 70% in stable investments and only 30% of your money in equities.

Maybe you've been told EIAs are the perfect answer. They're sold as delivering both stability and growth. Salespeople say you can participate in the growth of the stock market without the risk, while always earning a minimum of 3%. It seems that an EIA will help you meet both objectives. Upon closer examination, though, you will see that it doesn't do either very well.

EIAs are said to provide stability because they provide a minimum return of 3%. Let's put that in perspective. In return for that 3% minimum you are required to keep YOUR money in the investment for many years, or else pay a penalty that in some cases could be the equivalent of over 3 years worth of return!

Moreover, that 3% minimum doesn't change over the long length of the investment. If interest rates increase during those 7 to 12 years, you will be unable to take advantage of them. Imagine how you would feel if you knew you could be earning 5% or 7% in a CD or government-guaranteed bond, but you were stuck in an EIA paying 3%! The stability an EIA provides just doesn't measure up.

So let's take a closer look at the growth offered by an EIA. Typically, your investment choices are limited to the S&P 500, NASDAQ, or a bond-related index. But EIAs place a limit on how much you earn. If these indexes go up 25% or 50% like they did in 2003, you may only earn 10% to 12 %.

EIAs only allow you to only participate in a portion of the index's return, or they have internal charges of 1-2%. Even if the underlying index goes up 10%, your return will be lower. This makes sense when you realize the insurance has to earn back the enormous commission it paid the agent. The insurance company can't pay a 3% minimum in the bad times AND allow you to get 100% of the return in the good times.

So, in an EIA, you bear the risk of investing in the stock market but don't get all the return. Don't stack the deck against yourself. When you invest in equities you should have access to thousands of choices, and get all the return.

The bottom line: why trap yourself in an investment that greatly limits your upside potential and shackles you with outrageous surrender penalties, all for a measly 3% promised return, while your agent walks away with a 10 or 12% commission? No matter how you need to split your portfolio between stability and growth, believe me, there are much better ways to manage your money. I'll talk about them next week.
About the Author
Nationally-syndicated financial columnist and Certified Financial Planner Jeffrey Voudrie provides personal, in-depth money management services and advice to select private clients throughout the USA. He will answer your financial question FREE at http://www.guardingyourwealth.net
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