Tag Archives: Annuities

Buying insurance and annuities

Two kinds of insurance products are often sold as investments, and should not be:

  • Life insurance
  • Annuities

There may be a place for both of them in your financial plan.  But they are often bought for the wrong reason because they are often misrepresented by the agent or misunderstood by the buyer.

Insurance products are complex and difficult for a layman to understand.  Let’s first review the basic purpose of these products.

Life insurance – its primary purpose is to replace the income that is lost to a family because of the premature death of the primary earner.  A young family with one or more children should have a life insurance policy on the earners in the family.  Ideally the insurance is will allow the survivors to continue to live in their accustomed style and pay for children’s education.

This usually means that younger families need more insurance.  However, there will be a trade-off between what a young family needs and what they can afford.  To obtain the largest death benefit, I suggest using a “term” policy.   “Whole Life” policies which have some cash value generally do not provide nearly as much death benefit and are less than ideal as investment vehicles.  Whole life policies are often sold using illustrations showing the accumulation of cash value over time.  What most people don’t realize is that illustrations are based on assumptions that the insurance company is not committed to.  This is the point at which an advisor who’s not in the business of selling insurance can prevent people from making mistakes.

Life insurance can also be used for other purposes.  One popular reason was to pay for estate taxes.  However, changes in the estate tax exclusion amount have made this much less attractive except to the very wealthy.

Annuities – useful for providing an income stream that you cannot outlive.  Like life insurance, it comes in a dizzying array of options that the average layman has trouble understanding. It is also one of the most commonly misrepresented insurance products.

Some of the most heavily promoted annuities are sold as investments that allow you to get stock-market rates of return without risk.  That’s one of those “too good to be true” offers that some people simply can’t resist.  The problem is that few people either read, or understand the “small print.”  Insurance companies are really not in the business of giving you all the upside of the stock market and none of the downside.  If they did, they would quickly go out of business.

These products are popular with salespeople because they pay high commissions.  Unfortunately they also come with very high early redemption fees that often last from 7 years to as much as 16 years.

If you have been thinking about buying a life insurance policy or an annuity you should first get some unbiased advice on what to look for.  Most insurance agents are honest, but like most sales people they would like you to buy their product.  It would be wise to get advice from someone who is an expert, but who is not getting paid to sell you a product.  There are a number of financial advisors who will provide guidance.  At Korving & Company we are Certified Financial Planners™ (CFP®) and licensed insurance agents, but we do not sell insurance products.   Since we don’t get paid to sell insurance we can evaluate your situation, advise you, and if life insurance or an annuity is what you need we can refer you to a reputable agent who can get you what you need.

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How safe is your long-term-care policy?

A guarantee is only as good as the people who stand behind the product. It turns out that when long term care policies were introduced, insurers misjudged a number of issues.

Executives misjudged everything from how much elder care would cost to how long people would live. Result: these policies are costing insurers billions.

Today those problems are a financial headache for insurers who are losing billions. Tomorrow they could be a problem for the insured. Long-term care Insurance premiums are already rising steeply and several insurers including MetLife Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc. are no longer offering new policies.

“I was mad as hell,” says Arthur Mueller, an 83-year-old former real estate executive who lives in Dallas. Over the past 15 years, his annual Genworth premium has roughly doubled to $6,879.

As the cost of insurance has risen, the number of people buying these policies has decreased. Price is one reason. If long-term care insurance is relatively cheap, people will pay for it. As it becomes more expensive, they will explore other options for the elderly. Family members are going back to providing care and government programs cover much of the rest.

Meanwhile, seniors who have long-term care policies generally continue to pay the premiums, having invested years in these policies and hope that the coverage will be there when they need it.

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Don’t make these common mistakes when planning your retirement.

Planning to retire? Have all your ducks in a row? Know where your retirement income’s going to come from? Great! But don’t make some basic mistakes or you may find yourself working longer or living on a reduced income.

Retirement income is like a three legged stool. Take one of the legs away and you fall over.

The first leg of the stool is Social Security. Depending on your income goals, do it right and you can cover part of your retirement income from this source. Do it wrong and you can leave lots of money on the table.

The second leg is a pension. Many people have guaranteed pensions provided by their employer.  But these are gradually disappearing, replaced by 401(k) and similar plans known as “defined contribution” plans. If you don’t have a pension but want a second guaranteed lifetime income you can look into annuities that pay you a fixed income for life.

The third leg of the stool is your investment portfolio. This is where most people make mistakes and it can have a big impact in your retirement.

Mistake number one is leaving “orphan” 401(k) plans behind as you change jobs. These plans often represent a large part of a typical retiree’s investment assets. Our advice for people who move from one company to another is to roll their 401 (k) assets into an IRA. This gives you much more flexibility and many more investment choices, often at a lower cost than the ones you have in the typical 401(k).

Mistake number two is trying to time the market. Many people are tempted to jump in and out of the market based on nothing but TV talking heads, rumors, or their guess about what the market is going to do in the near future. Timing the market is almost always counter-productive. Instead, create a well balanced portfolio that can weather market volatility and stick with it.

Mistake number three is “set it and forget it.” The biggest factor influencing portfolio returns is asset allocation. And the one thing you can be sure of is that over time your asset allocation will change. You need to rebalance your portfolio to insure that your portfolio does not becoming more aggressive than you realize. If it does, you could find yourself facing a major loss just as you’re ready to retire. Rebalancing lets you “buy low and sell high,” something that everyone wants to do.

Mistake number four is to assume that the planning process ends with your retirement. The typical retiree will live another 25 year after reaching retirement age. To maintain you purchasing power your money continues to have to work hard for you. Otherwise inflation and medical expenses are going to deplete your portfolio and reduce your standard of living. Retirement plans should assume that you will live to at least 90, perhaps to 100.

Retirement planning is complicated and is best done with the help of an expert. Check out our website and feel free to give us a call. We wrote the book on retirement and estate planning.

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Fee-Only Advisors

What’s a Fee-Only Advisor? It’s an advisor who is compensated only by the client.  He receives no compensation based on the purchase or sale of a financial product.  He receives no commissions, rebates, awards, finder’s fees, bonuses or 12B-1 fees (“mutual fund trailers”) or other forms of compensation from others.

The typical “broker” is paid by commissions to buy or sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life insurance, annuities, partnerships or other investment products.  Some of these commissions and fees are disclosed, many are hidden in the fine print and not obvious to the client.  This creates an obvious conflict of interest on the part of the investment professional.  They are under pressure to get their clients to do something even when the best course of action is to do nothing.  There is also an incentive to sell high commission products like partnerships, annuities or other insurance products and mutual funds with front end loads.

The fee-only financial advisor has no incentive to do anything but grow his clients’ assets because he is usually compensated by a fee based on a percentage of the assets he manages, thus aligning his objectives with that of the client.   Our RIA firm is fee-only.

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Death and Taxes

The old saying about death and taxes being the only things that are certain is only partly true. Taxes change. Death is certain. The end of our lives is something that we face only reluctantly, if at all. When someone close to us dies, the effect is al­ways sadness. When a spouse or parent dies, the effect is traumatic.

Because death is an unpleasant subject, most people prefer to spend their time thinking of more pleasant subjects.  They believe that they have done their planning if they meet with an attorney to have a will or trust document prepared.  Once this is done the feeling is that the planning process is complete.  Unfortunately that’s rarely true.  This traditional view of estate planning gives your heirs the view from thirty thousand feet but often fails to provide the guidance that surviving spouses or children really need.  Here is an example from real life.

Sue Smith (not her real name) became a widow after her husband, Sam’s, brief illness. Sam had a small account with me but the bulk of his portfolio was distributed among a number of different investment firms and mutual fund custodians.  Only Sam had a complete picture of the family’s finances and he rebuffed suggestions to consolidate his assets and do planning beyond reviewing his will on a regular basis.  Sam retired after a career as an executive at a large corporation.  He had been a take-charge guy all his life, both at work and at home. He had been the sole income earner, made the investment decisions and paid the bills, while Sue was in charge of the home and children. They were a very typical couple.  Both were healthy, until Sam had a sudden stroke that left him incapacitated and led to his death a few weeks later.  Sue was suddenly alone.

In a matter of hours Sue had to make a number of decisions. Some required immediate action, such as the selection of a funeral home and the arrangement of the funeral service.  Shortly after the funeral Sue realized she needed help and asked me to be her “financial advisor” and I agreed.  We met at her home to gather basic information.  I began by asking her basic questions.  What was her income now that she was single? What level of income would she need to maintain her lifestyle?  Did she have any debts?  What were her regular bills and how were they paid?  What were her financial assets and where were they?  Did her husband have a life insurance policy or annuity?

The answer to all of these questions was “I don’t know.”

The psychological result of being left alone and unsure of herself was severe.  Sue was overwhelmed. This was a crushing burden to fall on someone who had never been required to take care of financial issues. It was as if a child had been dropped in the middle of dark woods with wild animals prowling around. The result was not only deep sadness but also fear and paranoia. Since her husband had always taken care of the fam­ily finances, she felt unprepared to handle major decisions and was terrified of being victimized. And because Sam had not left an in­struction manual for her, Sue went through a long period of grief combined with anger and confusion.

Since Sue did not have a the information that we needed, we had to go through Sam’s files, make phone calls and watch the mail and as bills and statements came in to get an true picture of her assets, income and expenses.  It took several months before we had a good handle on her finances.

Fortunately, Sam left Sue with a sizeable estate and I was able to provide all the income she needed as well as leaving a sizeable inheritance for her heirs.  However, Sue never over­came the issues that surfaced after her husband’s death, and it made her life as a “suddenly single” person very unhappy.  Sam never provided her with the guidance she needed once he was gone and it affected her in a very profound way.

As a result of my experience with Sue and a number of other widows who came to me for help, I prepared a manual that became a book, Before I Go, which I provide to all of my clients.   It provides the answers to the questions that are not addressed by the usual estate planning documents but are the questions that those who are left behind need to know.  The view from thirty thousand feet is not enough when it comes to managing the family finances and too often the details are ignored unless couples are made aware of the need for detailed planning that goes beyond preparing the will or trust.



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Fundamental Sources of Retirement Income

Traditional sources for retirement income—such as Social Security and defined benefit plans—are less certain to satisfy retirement needs than they were in the past. The rising cost of living, a diminishing number of defined benefit plans and a social security system that requires reform in order to pay benefits for younger workers in the distant future are worrisome. As a result, it’s increasingly more important for investors to work closely with their advisors to create a comprehensive plan that will enable them to meet their income needs during retirement.

The traditional sources of retirement income include:

  • Employee sponsored retirement accounts
  • Pension plans
  • Social Security
  • Employment
  • IRAs
  • Fixed income securities
  • Dividends
  • Annuities

How much is enough?

Running out of money in retirement is a concern for many investors. It’s a challenge to calculate exactly how much they’ll need, given that many factors—from investment returns, healthcare costs and inflation to Social Security’s future and individual life spans—are nearly impossible to predict.  What is certain is that individuals are living longer. In fact, at least one member of a 65-year-old couple has a high probability of living into his or her 90s, 35 years beyond what has historically been considered a “normal” retirement age in the United States.

Experts often estimate retirees will need 75 to 85% of their pre-tax, pre-retirement income.  But often there will be no reduction at all in the cost of living in retirement due to medical bills and the desire and the time for travel.

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Trouble for Insurers

Misjudged Annuity Guarantees May Cost Life Insurers Billions was the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

Life insurers in the U.S. face charges against earnings potentially totaling billions of dollars from miscalculations about the number of customers who would exercise lifetime-income guarantees sold with the retirement products known as variable annuities, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service.

Variable annuities are a tax-advantaged way to invest in stock and bond funds, and these particular guarantees promise steady payouts if owners’ fund accounts become depleted.

What the article points out is that insurance companies misjudged the lapse rate (the rate at which customers would drop policies) of variable annuities that came with income guarantees that would continue even if the value of the assets in the contract dropped to zero.  Investors with these policies should check with their insurance company to make sure that they retain their guaranteed income benefits.


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Beneficiary Form Cautions

The Hook Law Center has a good explanation of the issues involved with beneficiary designations.  Many financial accounts allow you to name a beneficiary who will receive the assets directly without going through probate.  Keep this in mind when preparing a will because beneficiary designations supersede the terms of a will.

What kind of accounts commonly request that you name a beneficiary?

  • IRAs
  • 401(k) – or similar accounts
  • Pension plans
  • Life insurance policies
  • Annuities

Please read the article for more details.

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What’s the hurry? Financial decisions that can wait


From Reuters we get some ideas that can be better if you procrastinate.  Here are some things that get better if you wait.

— Transferring from a traditional individual retirement account to a Roth IRA. When you move money from a tax-deferred IRA to a Roth, you have to pay income taxes on the amount you move. If you do that at mid-career, you’re likely to be paying at a top tax rate, and perhaps even limiting the amount of new money you can invest while you pay taxes.

COMMENT: If you wait until after retiring, you may be in a lower tax bracket.  But there are no guarantees since tax rates are on the rise.

— Buying TIPS. Treasury inflation protected securities … If you wanted to sell TIPS before maturity, you’d get less back than you paid for them.

COMMENT: That’s mostly true because TIPS prices have been bid up to extraordinary levels.

— Buying a fixed annuity.

COMMENT: Rates today are at a record low.  And, by the way, the older you are the higher the income from a fixed annuity.

— Paying off that mortgage

COMMENT: At today’s low, low interest rates you may be able to invest and make a higher rate of return on your money than the interest on your mortgage.  On the other hand, not having a mortgage payment frees up a lot of cash, and many people prefer to know that they, rather than the bank, own their home. 

— Buying the new car.

COMMENT: A car is a depreciating asset.  The writer suggests taking a trip instead, spending money on experiences, instead of things.  Good advice.  At one time, 100,000 miles was the limit for any car.  Today, many cars are good for another 50, 100 or 150,000 more miles.  The time to replace a car is when maintenance costs begin to mount.


Wondering what to do and when to do it?  Contact us.

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