Income riders: Don’t be blinded by the shiny objectArticle added by Jason Kestler on July 8, 2014
Jason Kestler

Jason Kestler

Leesburg, VA

Joined: August 15, 2009

As a poor college student, I used to do a lot of diving in the Florida Keys. After seeing a large shark one day, I asked one of the experienced divers if I should be worried. “No,” he said. “Sharks will usually leave you alone unless you (or a fish you just speared) is bleeding. But watch out for barracudas; they are unpredictable and will go after shiny objects like that chrome buckle on your bathing suit.” As I looked down at my buckle, my imagination took off. All I could think about was a five-foot long predator with really big teeth taking a liking to my belt buckle — and whatever else might be nearby.

We are all drawn to shiny objects in one way or another. They take many forms: a new car, a big diamond, that killer pair of shoes. Usually, our rational mind takes over and says something like, “That’s a really beautiful Ferrari, but my good old Ford gets me from point A to point B at a fraction of the cost and with significantly better gas mileage.” In it’s own way, your mind is saying, “What good is a car that can go 200 miles per hour if it runs out of gas halfway between A and B?” The goal is not the sparkle — the goal is to get to point B safely and efficiently.

In today’s annuity market, income riders are riddled with shiny objects. But, before exploring them in detail, lets do a little review.

An income rider attached to an annuity contract can provide a significant benefit to the owner. It ensures that once his strategy changes from accumulation to distribution, he can be confident that his income stream will last as long as he does — even if his “cash” account is depleted.

When an annuity is issued with an income rider, the carrier will essentially keep two sets of books on the contract. The cash account is real money. This reflects the premium plus any bonus, if applicable, plus credited interest minus any rider or strategy fees. The cash account is the account you can take withdrawals from. It is also the death benefit and surrender value after any surrender charges are applied.

The second set of books — often referred to as the income base — is phantom money. It doesn’t exist. It is only a calculation. If the income rider has a 5 percent compound step-up, the income base would be the initial premium compounded at 5 percent. At any point in time, the cash and the income base will be two different numbers. When the client is ready to begin taking lifetime withdrawals from his account, the company will compare the two account values and apply the greater of the two to the specified payout factor — this is the lifetime income amount. For example, if the initial premium is $100,000 and at some point in the future the cash account has grown to $125,000 and the income base has grown to $150,000, the income base (the larger of the two) would be applied to the payout factor. If the payout factor is 5 percent, the client would receive $7,500/year ($150,000 x 5 percent) for life.

Once lifetime income is triggered, the income base vanishes and the cash account continues to operate as usual; but in addition to interest credits and fee deductions, the $7,500 is also deducted annually. At some point in the future, the cash account will always go to $0, but until then, the cash account is available for emergencies and as a death benefit.; Once the cash account goes to $0, the insurance company steps in and continues the $7,500 for the life of the client.

It is important to not lose sight of the fact that: A) A strong accumulation “engine” will maintain cash (read options and flexibility) much longer than a poorly performing “engine,” and B) The client always spends his money first. Therefore, higher income just means he is spending his money down faster and the insurance company steps in sooner. Once the client is spending insurance company money, they essentially own a SPIA.
There are three primary parts to an income rider:
  • The fee or cost of the rider itself;
  • The accumulation benefit – often referred to as the step-up;
  • And the payout factor.
While there are a dizzying number of additional factors to consider when analyzing these riders, for the sake of this discussion, we will focus only on these three.

Rider fees are essentially the cost to “insure” the income stream. Income riders on index annuities have fees ranging from 60 basis points (bps) to 110 bps. Income rider fees on variable annuities typically begin at 100 bps due to the fact that they have to price for the potential of a market loss in the cash account.

The accumulation benefit or step-up is the primary “shiny object” in an income rider. If you had a choice between a 10 percent step-up or a 7.5 percent step-up, which would be better? Most cousumers (and lazy agents) would choose the 10 percent (bigger “shiny object”). However, if the 10 percent was a simple interest and the 7.5 percent was compound interest, the real answer is, “It depends.”

All other things being equal (which they rarely are), if the client anticipated a short deferral period, the 10 percent simple would be the better choice. However, if they anticipated a longer hold, the 7.5 percent compound would be a better choice.

The payout factor is the least visible of the income rider variables — often buried somewhere in the policy fine print. Since fees and step-ups are fairly visible rider features, often payout factors are compromised at the expense of a large step-up.

Let’s take a real life example. David is 56 years old and plans to retire at age 68. His goal is to receive a minimum of $40,000 a year in additional retirement income. A recent report by a large national carrier posted the following results:

Lifetime Income Benefit Rider Roll-up Amount Lifetime Withdrawal Percentage at Age 68
Rider A 5% Compound x 10 Years5.00%
Rider B 6% Simple x 10 Years5.50%
Rider C 5% Compound x 10 Years5.30%
Rider D7% Simple for 10 years4.75%
Rider E2% Compound x 10 Years8.15%
David wants to know how much he needs to set aside today to guarantee his income goal.

Lifetime Income Benefit RiderInitial Investment Amount NeededIncome Base Required to Achieve IncomePayout Factor at 12 YearsDesired Annual Income
Rider A$491,131$800,0005.00%$40,000
Rider B$454,545$727,2735.50%$40,000
Rider C$463,331$754,7175.30%$40,000
Rider D$495,356$842,1054.75%$40,000
Rider E$402,625$490,7988.15%$40,000

It’s interesting to note that the income rider with the lowest step-up has the best solution and would save David over $90,000 compared to the policy with the 7 percent (simple) step-up. Right about now, I’m remembering the barracuda story. The “shiny object” would have cost him $90,000!

Here are seven things to consider for anyone thinking about using an annuity with an income rider.

1. Pay attention to the details and beware of “shiny objects.”

2. There is no such thing as a perfect product for every situation.

3. An annuity with a high income number at the expense of underlying performance may be little more than a tax deferred SPIA.

4. In many index annuities, the guaranteed minimum is also the maximum income. Consider a policy with a 6 percent step-up on the income rider and a cash account with a 4 percent cap. When does 4 percent beat 7 percent? Never!

5. Not every client needs an income rider. If you are using an index annuity as the fixed asset in an allocation model, why add the additional layer of fees?

6. Consider offering policies with a cost of living adjustment (COLA). There are a couple on the market today with a COLA based on the urban consumer price index (CPI-U). If you think we may be entering an inflationary period (as many economists do), having this option during payout could be huge.

7. All things being equal, an income rider on an index annuity is more efficient than one attached to a variable annuity. On the other hand, if a client is looking for growth and has time on his side, a variable annuity without an income rider may be the best choice.
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