The split annuity: A balanced approach to retirement and estate planning

Posted On: SEPTEMBER 2021

If you’re approaching retirement or have already retired, one of the biggest challenges is balancing the need to maintain your standard of living with your desire to preserve as much wealth as possible for your loved ones. This balance can be difficult to achieve, especially when retirement can last decades. One strategy that can offer greater peace of mind is the split annuity, which creates a current income stream while preserving wealth for the future.

Annuity basics

An annuity is a tax-advantaged investment contract, usually with an insurance company or other financial services provider. You pay either a lump sum or annual premiums, and, in exchange, the provider makes periodic payments to you for a term of years or for life.

For purposes of the split annuity strategy discussed below, we’ll focus on “fixed” annuities, which generally provide a guaranteed minimum rate of return. Other types of annuities include “variable” and “equity-indexed,” which may offer greater upside potential but also involve greater risk.

Annuities can be immediate or deferred. As the names suggest, with an immediate annuity, payouts begin right away, while a deferred annuity is designed to begin payouts at a specified date in the future. From a tax perspective, annuity earnings are tax-deferred — that is, they grow tax-free until they’re paid out or withdrawn. A portion of each payment is subject to ordinary income taxes, and a portion is treated as a tax-free return of principal (premiums). The ability to accumulate earnings on a tax-deferred basis allows deferred annuities to grow more quickly than comparable taxable accounts, which helps make up for their usually modest interest rates.

Annuities offer some flexibility to withdraw or reallocate the funds should your circumstances change. But keep in mind that — depending on how much you withdraw and when — you may be subject to surrender or early withdrawal charges. Most annuities provide some exceptions to these charges under certain circumstances, such as withdrawals attributable to disability, loss of employment or death of the annuity owner. Withdrawals before age 59½ may also be subject to 10% tax penalties.

Split annuity strategy

A “split annuity” may sound like a single product, but in fact it simply refers to two (or more) annuities, usually funded with a single investment. In a typical split annuity strategy, you use a portion of the funds to purchase an immediate annuity that makes fixed payments to you for a specified term (10 years, for example) and apply the remaining funds to a deferred annuity that begins paying out at the end of the initial annuity period.

Ideally, at the end of the immediate annuity term, the deferred annuity will have accumulated enough earnings so that its value is equal to your original investment. In other words, if the split annuity is designed properly, you’ll enjoy a fixed income stream for a term of years while preserving your principal.

At the end of the term, you can reevaluate your options. For example, you might start receiving payments from the deferred annuity, withdraw some or all its cash value, or reinvest the funds in another split annuity or another investment vehicle. Deferred annuities often allow you to withdraw some of their cash value penalty-free, but depending on how much you withdraw or reinvest, you may be subject to early withdrawal penalties or surrender charges.

A valuable tool for your arsenal

For most people, the split annuity — with its modest interest rates — is no substitute for other retirement and estate planning vehicles that offer superior rates of return. But its ability to provide peace of mind by offering a fixed income stream while preserving principal makes it a potentially attractive supplement to other investment tools.

© 2021