Buy an Annuity

Unless you’re a retired public service employee or you worked for one of the handfuls of companies that still offer a traditional pension (see below), you’re not going to receive a monthly paycheck from your employer for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t mean that a guaranteed source of lifetime income is an impossible dream. You can create your own pension by buying an immediate fixed annuity.

When you buy an immediate annuity, you give an insurance company a lump sum in exchange for a monthly check, usually for life. You can buy an annuity that has survivor benefits so that it will continue to pay your spouse after you die. But you pay for that protection by accepting smaller monthly payouts. Another option is a deferred-income annuity; you purchase the annuity when you’re in your fifties or sixties, but the payments don’t start for at least 10 years. The longer you wait, the bigger the payouts. Of course, if you die before payments start, you get nothing—unless you opt for return of premium or survivor benefits. (These products are often referred to as longevity insurance because they protect you from the risk of outliving your savings.)

A relatively new type of deferred-income annuity, a qualified longevity annuity contract (QLAC), offers a tax benefit for Azle retirees who have a lot of money in tax-deferred retirement accounts. You can invest up to 25% of your traditional IRA or 401(k) plan (or $125,000, whichever is less) in a QLAC without taking required minimum distributions on that money when you turn 70½. To qualify for this special tax treatment, your payments must begin no later than age 85.

An analysis by New York Life illustrates how this strategy could lower your tax bill. A 70-year-old retiree in the 28% tax bracket with $500,000 in an IRA would pay about $117,000 in taxes on RMDs between age 70 and 85, assuming 5% annual net returns. If the retiree opted instead to put 25% of the IRA balance into a QLAC at age 70, he would pay roughly $87,000 in taxes over the same period—a $30,000 reduction. Taxes would increase, however, once the annuity payments began at 85.

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Don’t stash all of your nest egg in an annuity. Most experts recommend investing no more than 25% to 40% of your savings in an annuity. Alternatively, calculate your basic expenses, such as your mortgage, property taxes and utilities, and buy an annuity that, when added to Social Security benefits, will cover those costs.