Yes, if you’re in a fixed-rate annuity and the insurer is stiffing you with a truly rotten rate—say, 3 percent in a 4.5 percent world. Switch to a CD-type annuity instead.
Yes, if you’re in a high-cost variable annuity and will switch to a low-load annuity.
Probably, if you’re in a high-cost variable annuity and keep all your money in its bond and fixed-income accounts. You might net more by switching to a fixed annuity, after costs.
Probably not, if you’re in a fixed annuity and are tempted by the potentially higher returns you might get in a variable annuity sold by a broker. To get those higher returns, after costs, you have to hold the annuity for at least 15 years and often more. You also have to invest your annuity money entirely in stocks. Will you actually do that? If so, skip the broker and buy a low-load annuity.
No, if you’re in a fixed annuity, like the interest rate, and aren’t a risk taker. Stay where you are. There’s nothing in a variable annuity that you really want. Don’t switch to a new fixed annuity, either, just for a high first-year bonus rate. That bonus may raise your yield by only a minuscule amount over a 10-year holding period. What’s more, insurers with eye-popping first-year rates on fixed deferred annuities might drop your rate into the cellar once they’ve got you in their clutches.
No, if you’re near the end of the period when you’ll owe surrender fees. From that point on, you’ll be able to take out your money without penalty. If you buy another annuity, the penalty period will start all over again. Not surprisingly, this is just the moment when an agent is likely to approach you.
No, if the agent pitches you on a new variable annuity without explaining the costs and risks that this chapter talks about. I’ve spoken in generalities; the agent should lay out everything in dollars and cents. Also no if the agent has switched you before and proposes to do it again. You’re being churned. That means your money is being turned over to earn the agent a commission, not to get you a better deal.
If You Do Switch Annuities, Do a 1035 tax-free exchange. The low-load annuity company, or your agent, will handle the paperwork.
Laura Bushnell is Editor in Chief for National Review Brand Foundation of Consumer Updates and based in Boston. Previously, she held senior VP level positions in corporate finance and consumer financial planning firms.